Though the summer of love seems long ago and far away except for the occasional tie-dye shirt t-shirt for sale, tourists can't seem to resist the Haight. To me, Haight Street is a street best avoided. It is dirty, crowded, bursting with street kids and their dogs, and comprised of shops that offer tattoos, bongs, miscellany scented with incense, or cheap clothes designed for people half my age. Unfortunately, I work there and have done for more than a decade, so I can't avoid it altogether, but I do navigate on parallel streets, turning onto Haight only when my destination is within half a block.
Yesterday, in a battle with what I feared was the Traditional Christmas Cold, I opted to get the curative soup from the place six blocks away instead of the mere pretender from the place one block away. I can't say why, clutching my to-go bag, I decided to walk back by way of Haight Street, but I did. And thank goodness.
One of the few shops of any real use is Haight Street Shoe Repair. It looks like it has been there since shortly after the invention of footwear. It is small and untidy in a way that aligns with my imaginary version of cobblers' shops. The shelves in the front of overflowing with shoes and the workshop in the back has still more. For many years, it was just Carlos you would see cobbling away back there, but in recent years there's been a younger man as well. I found this reassuring. I am always impressed by people who have the necessary skills to build or fix things. I liked to think that Carlos was passing on all his cobbler secrets so that the shoes of this bright new millennium might continue to be resoled until the Tesla shoe-restoration robots are invented or it becomes traditional to make new shoes at home with a 3D printer.
I've been there many times to have soles replaced on beloved shoes until there was barely enough shoe to sole. Even more often, I've gone to have a particularly untrustworthy piece of velcro resewn onto a sandal. For those two-minute sewing jobs on the industrial grade machine, Carlos never charged me. Even when I tried to give him token sums for his trouble, he waved them off. "You can give me something next time," he would always say. His shop is next to the bookstore (another useful store), so I would pass it fairly often. I always waved. Carlos is a man who inspires waving. He is unfailingly kind. He makes you feel as though you are part of an actual neighborhood.
Yesterday when I passed, there was a large sign in the window:
CLOSING DECEMBER 27
PICK UP YOUR SHOES!
My thoughts were variously:
- Oh no!
- Why did I not take my boots in?
- Good for him
- Thank goodness I'm not too late
I walked into the shop where Carlos was standing not far beyond the door. "Congratulations!" I said. "I hope you have a wonderful next adventure." I shook his hand. "Yes." he said. "Thank you." He gestured toward the passers by on the sidewalk. "I love the people. I love my friends. My customers. But...I'm 81 years...." I laughed. "It's enough," I said. He smiled. "It's enough," he agreed. "We'll miss you," I told him and we shook hands again.
His hands are warm and his grip very light as though he hadn't spent the last several decades wielding tools and wrestling leather. He is a gentle man. And a gentleman.
Happy trails, Carlos. It won't be the same without you.