Walk through any major airport these days and it looks like the remnants of a slumber party, with people in dirty T-shirts, grubby shorts, yoga pants and even flip-flops, which I believe to be disrespectful in any venue besides the beach or the pool.
I remember a time when air travel was a semi-formal occasion — or, at least, when people used to wear pants.
I get it. People want to be comfortable when they’re buying $12 bags of trail mix and trying to convince gate agents that their comfort animals need to sit on their laps.
But if you know where to look, you can still find vestiges of the old ways in some of the busier airports: private lounges, oyster bars, upscale shopping. My personal favorite, though, is the shoeshine stand, once a fixture in every American airport (and bus station, and courthouse, and main commercial thoroughfare).
Not too many people wear the sort of shoes that need to be shined these days. But I do.
In July I caught a shine at the Charlotte airport for a quite reasonable $7, administered by a Latinx woman who used rubber gloves to massage the leather treatments and polis into my shoes. Last week I got one in the Atlanta airport — $12 for boots — which was a bit more traditional: an elderly African-American man who cleaned the yellow threads of my boots with a toothbrush, used a small scrubber to clean and shine the sides of the soles and wrapped a well-used rag around two fingers to apply the polish before unfurling the towel and snapping it across the tops of my boots, all the while making friendly conversation.
When a good pair of shoes gets a professional polish, they look even better than new. And in a place like the airport, they really stand out.