Two Black Americans Remembered
During Black American History Month, I remember Jake the shoeshine man and Ron the newspaper salesman -- not because of their fame or inventions, but rather for their entrepreneurial spirit, friendship, loyalty, dependability, patience, customer service, hard work, and especially kindness. There are photographs of them in my photo albums. The flipside of Ron’s photo reads, “Ron, the newspaper salesman for the Tallahassee Municipal Airport ‘Bring me a Long Island Tea!’” The other, “Jake the Shoeshine Man birthday celebration”.
Yes, Ron liked Long Island Teas. How do I know? I know because I served up his drinks at the Tallahassee Airport Lounge and a good bartender remembers what folks drink. Ron smiled often and always wore a scally cap and sneakers. Physically handicapped, he couldn’t use his left hand or walk. His speech was broken. Sometimes he needed help with his catheter. None of us knew exactly what happened to him, and we never asked. We depended on him to get the news. When his newspapers were sold, someone would wheel him into the airport lounge for his after-work drink. We learned soon that his healthcare workers didn’t like it when he drank too much, so we all had a silent code for his light pours.
His healthcare staff would drop him off most days for a few hours in the evening shift except on Sundays, when he sold papers in the morning. From his wheelchair he greeted passengers, airline staff, rental car staff, ground support staff and us bartenders with a smile and a nod. He was much older than me. He showed me what it meant to have a positive attitude. I don’t know if it was the meds he was on, or not, but he was always pleasant, a real grateful sort. Ron even made it to my wedding. I can still see him waving bye, as the staff pushed him in his chair through the automatic doors out of the terminal for his ride home, wherever that was.
During the 1980s at the Tallahassee Airport you had the freedom to come and go as you pleased, you could even meet your loved ones at the gate. The Transportation Security Administration didn’t exist. Your shoes stayed on your feet at the airport, and they stayed on your feet at Jake’s Shoeshine Stand, where I had known Jake to work twelve-fourteen-hour days, often seven days a week. Jake was a people person, knew how to listen, and he’d shine your soul not just your shoes. People left his stand feeling better than when they sat down. And during legislative sessions, when the capital city airport was packed with politicians who needed shines, he charmed them all. He was a hard worker, a friend, a father. He had a great sense of humor and was always happy to help. If there were any belligerent customers at the lounge, he’d be the first to usher them out the door.
His drink, gin & tonic. One of his favorite sayings, “My kids are all Mr. & Miss Need Mores because they’re always needing more”. He'd say this in good fun. And all kidding aside, he spoke about them with great pride. I can still see him in his blue apron, gold tooth sparkling when he smiled, singing out shoeshine through the airport terminal.
Both Jake and Ron have passed on, but I figure it’s good to respect the dead. They were two dependable, hard-working, and courteous men, members of the service industry. They kept the economy moving by having your newspaper ready and your shoes shined. I was proud to call them my friends. To reference Shakespeare, maybe to be remembered, you don’t need to “be born great, or achieve greatness, or have greatness thrust upon you” (Twelfth Night), maybe you just need to be kind. And that, in the end, is what really matters.
It’s Black American History month and Jake and Ron are part of American history; they’re part of my history. I was better for them having been here. And I hope I have honored their memory. Wherever I may be less than adequate with my words, I hope to be forgiven. To Jake and Ron, I remember you. Cheers to a happy afterlife. - D.S. Marquis
Note: D.S. Marquis is the author of 1980s book, OF SCHOOL AND WOMEN - available here.