A big part of SI Ferry History was the shoeshine guys, here is a story about them –
[Story taken from www.statenislandhistory.com]
The Staten Island Ferry continues to hum across the jelly-like waters, back and forth. The engine’s reverberations still massage your feet. The smell of overcooked hot dogs still consumes the concession stand. And the ride still ends with the groan of massive vessel meeting wooden slip, the sound of journey’s end.
But one sound has gone missing from the ferry experience these past few months. This sound: Shine! Shine! Wanna shine?
For more than 30 years, an Italian immigrant named Carmine Rizzo walked up and down the worn aisles of the ferries, calling out his services and hoping for the catch of an eye, the raise of a hand, a simple nod. Once summoned, he would place a small pillow on the ground and kneel before the patron, as if in supplication.
From this vantage point he could not see the glint of morning sunlight off Lady Liberty’s torch, or gaze into the fog that seems to set the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the backdrop of a dream. There on his knees, all he saw were the words ”Life Preservers” stenciled beneath the lips of scarred, dark-wooded benches; trouser legs; and other people’s shoes.
He and a couple of other men from the Salerno region of Italy detected opportunity in the desire of businessmen to exude financial promise, down to the very tips of their shoes. These immigrants hawked and polished and buffed, marking the years through their faint reflections in footwear. One by one they disappeared, though, dying or retiring or returning to Italy, until there was only Mr. Rizzo, calling out shine, shine, above the ferry hum.
With the demand for polished shoes in decline, and the modest potential for making money, Mr. Rizzo retired four years ago — only to return three weeks later. Then, in December, he retired again, telling The Staten Island Advance that at the age of 76, he saw no benefit in commuting from Whitestone, Queens, early in the morning to make as little as $2.50 a shine.
”This time I’m firm,” he had said through an interpreter. ”I’m not coming back.”
The city’s Department of Transportation had no choice but to advertise the availability of a city concession. It issued a 38-page document entitled ”Request for Bids for the Operation of a Roving Shoe Shine Service on the Staten Island Ferry Boats.”
The document detailed the potential of the enterprise, explaining, for example, that 65,000 commuters and tourists ride the ferries that chug to and from Manhattan and the St. George section of Staten Island. It asked bidders to ride the ferry, ”which is free, to view the passenger seating areas.”
It also laid out the ground rules for a ferryboat shoe shiner. The licensee ”may offer services with a short verbal announcement that includes the price of service (i.e. ‘Shoe Shine! X Dollar Shoe Shine!’),” it said, but may not be ”loud, offensive, misleading or unduly intrusive.”
For the right to get down on your knees, again and again, and polish the shoes of those whose faces are often concealed behind newspapers, the city suggested a minimum bid of $4,000 for the first year. Bids were to be submitted no later than 11 a.m. on Jan. 12, the document said, at which time they would be ”opened promptly.”
At 11 a.m. that day, city officials promptly opened nothing. ”We didn’t get any bid,” Tom Cocola, a transportation spokesman, said. ”It’s as simple as that.”
What did this silence mean? Were up-and-coming entrepreneurs missing the opportunity of a lifetime? After all, people still wear shoes, and more than a few still want others to shine their shoes for them.
Perhaps there is something off-putting, even sad, about a shoeshine man without permanent station: a man who carries his wooden shoe stand and pillow through the aisles and decks of a swaying city ferry, waiting for the wave that permits him to kneel. If his presence evokes an Old New York charm, perhaps it is only to those whose shoes sparkle.
FOR nearly five months now, the Staten Island Ferry has borne the absence of the shoeshine man who speaks virtually no English. But the city recently announced that it was trying once again to solicit bids for shoeshine service on the ferries. Interested parties can submit their bids on June 1.
Word of this new solicitation for bids has reached a certain household on solid ground in Whitestone, where a recent retiree putters about, unable to relax.
”He’s driving me crazy,” said Angelo Rizzo of his father. ”Up the wall, sometimes.”
Some days Carmine Rizzo thinks no, the son says. But other days he thinks yes, yes, he should return to roving the ferry.
In 2000 Carmine Rizzo retired as a shoeshine guy on the SI Ferry but Carmine did not take a shine to retirement.
The ferry shoeshine guy was back in business, just three weeks after telling the city Department of Transportation (DOT) he did not intend to renew his long-standing concession contract to provide services inside the St. George terminal and aboard the boats.
But there he was yesterday morning, kneeling on his raggedy pillow, hunched over a pair of black loafers belonging to a well-dressed man sitting by the snack bar on the 10:30 Manhattan-bound Gov. Herbert H. Lehman.
“It’s not good at home,” Rizzo said in his halting Italian accent after finishing the job. “Working
three days only.” As Rizzo cruised to Manhattan, his spitshine sidekick, Angelo Passero, was buffing his way to
St. George aboard the Samuel I. Newhouse, according to Lehman crew members.
Yesterday was the first day back on the boats for the shoeshine guys since Jan. 5, when Rizzo’s $7,200-a-year DOT concession contract expired.
Apparently bored with a life of leisure, Rizzo recently signed a new one-year, $7,600 contract, effective yesterday, to provide shoeshine services aboard the boats three days a week, according to a DOT spokesman.
Last week, the DOT removed the decrepit shoeshine stand Rizzo once rented outside the ladies’ room at the St. George terminal, the spokesman said. It was not immediately clear whether the stand will return.
Though Staten Island Ferry staples for decades, little is known about Rizzo and Passero. The pair — who bear a striking resemblance to one another and are often confused as being the same man or brothers — have long rebuffed interview-seeking Advance reporters.
Rizzo reportedly lives in Queens; Passero in Brooklyn. Both men hail from the same Italian province, Salerno, and communicate with passengers only in terse phrases of limited English.
When pressed for details on what exactly was “not good” about retirement, Rizzo said daily episodes of his grandchildren crashing on his sofa wore thin fast. “Sit and watch TV all day,” he said, dismissing the very thought of idleness
with a wave of his large, weathered hand. Then, with a sparkle in his eye and a wry smile, Rizzo nodded emphatically
when asked if it felt good to be back on board.
Lehman crew members and ferry patrons also expressed delight at the shoeshine guy’s decision to shelve retirement.
“I was shocked to see him,” said a deckhand who lives on the South Shore but refused to identify himself. “It’s good to see [the shoeshine guys] back. They’ve been here so long. They’re like half the family.”
“I missed him the three weeks he was gone,” Colleen Mooney, of Port Richmond, a longtime ferry attendant, said of Rizzo. “He’s like one of the crew. . . . But I told him, he’s not getting his box back.”
The day after Rizzo’s faux retirement, he handed over his treasured shoeshine box to the crew of the John F. Kennedy. In turn, the crew presented it — along with six well-used bristle brushes and an empty tin of brown Kiwi polish — to the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences for eventual display in the Institute’s ferry museum inside the St. George terminal.
Still, Rizzo toted an identical, antiquated twin as he roamed the Lehman yesterday, puzzling some of the crew.
While politely declining a shine, Kathleen O’Connell, of West Brighton, offered the irascible bootblack a hearty hello on his return.
“I was glad to see him because there’s a history there,” she said. “He said, ‘Staying home, not good.’ I guess he was bored.”
Hugo Munoz, the man with the black loafers, knew nothing of the pair’s short-lived retirement. But he was nonetheless happy for a shine.
“Sometimes we look for these services but it’s hard to find,” said Munoz, a car service driver from Brooklyn whose vehicle was parked in the belly of the ferry. “It’s an old tradition.”
The return of the ferry shoeshine guys came, appropriately enough, on the heels of some of the season’s sloppiest, snowy weather.
“One trip he had three guys lined up to remove salt from their boots and shoes,” Ms. Mooney said.