The sharp smell of glue hit me first, stepping through the narrow door into the small shoe repair shop.
Faces turned to great us and I slipped between two older men, backing into a corner between a shelf of shoe polish and the counter. Everyone seemed to know the man I came with, a retired editor who still writes a column and comes in on occasion to help with deadline efforts. And while I was introduced and jokes were exchanged with him I looked around, my nose tickling from the glue.
Toes of shoes and straps from bags and purses peeked out of paper and plastic bags in cubby holes along one wall. Old machines with unknown uses stood in the back and along one wall. Shoe laces and shoe polish and shoe cleaner hung under the counter.
A thick layer of dust hung over everything.
Behind the counter, an older man had fired up a propane stove, and the smell of meat started to mix with the glue smell. A petite, elegant-looking woman who couldn’t have been younger than 75 stood at the counter, eating a hamburger and passing gossip with the older men.
Some were sitting out on the bench; I’ve passed them before.
“What to sit down? I’m leaving,” one said one morning several weeks ago when I walked past, and when I declined, he shrugged.
“Sorry fellas, I tried,” he told his companions.
Today, though, I was inside, because I was told the man behind the counter was making elk burgers, and I wanted to know if it was true.
And after about 10 minutes of waiting he slid a paper plate across the counter to me, a pile of potato chips and a thick slice of someone’s enormous tomato beside a greasy elk burger, and everyone watched me try it.
“So?” he asked, and I nodded.
“Apparently I like elk,” I told him, though it tasted like beef, and everyone laughed and the grease soaked into the bun.
I felt like I’d stepped into a different world, and one I certainly didn’t belong in, eating my elk burger between shoe polish and the counter. Several customers dropped in, picked up their shoes, laughed at the odd lunch-hour gathering and went their way. And though I thought shoe repair was a dying business, the full cubbies spoke of plenty of customers still.
apparently our host has sportsmen friends and routinely finds himself with something to share for lunch; and so he sends out the call to friends and neighbors and brings the stove down to the shop and there you have it.
An impromptu lunch spot.
My burger was nearly gone when the door opened again and the DA came in, a thin file under one arm as if he just came from court. They all called him Tommy and while I’m not sure he remembered my name, he nodded and said he knew me. I’ve seen him around at court plenty of times, called him more often than that.
And when our plates were empty we walked back out onto the street and I had a bit of work to finish at the office and he was heading off to golf (it seems he’s always golfing). My head felt a little light from the smell of glue and I wondered, sitting there, whether my food had been contaminated and whether that was exactly wise, lunch from the shoe repair shop.
But then again, the DA was eating there, so it can’t be that bad.