El Brillo, the Cuenca shoeshine man

Feb 16, 2017 | 4 comments

In Cuenca, there are a lot of shine men. Some guys just have a cardboard box with their supplies inside. You’ll have to put your foot up on the curb or elsewhere for there to be sufficient elevation for the work to be accomplished.  Other guys wheel their shine stand around. Even others give up the shine job, enter the Olympics, and win medals! Some aren’t men, women earn a wage in this line of work too!

Most seem to have somewhat permanent locations that they cover with a little plastic at night to keep any potential rain off. I suppose they take their valuable polish items with them when they head home for the evening. These locations usually have umbrellas to protect from not only rain but sun. The seats are elevated and the process is simplified by virtue of less effort on the part of the “shinee”.

Now, hear this. In Ecuador, you will be judged by the native population based on how your shoes look. Ecuadorians appreciate a clean and polished pair of shoes. Even if other articles of attire are tattered, wrinkled or soiled to some degree, shoes and their condition are rarely overlooked. Enter the shine men who seem to remain busy regardless of weather or economic conditions. A good shine is fifty cents or maybe a buck. A niño might offer to tag those shoes for a quarter. It’s another story altogether but be sure to ask the price before the work begins or you may expose yourself and your billfold to a rude awakening.

Skinny legged jeans are popular in Ecuador with both sexes. I see a lot of jeans and t-shirts here but at the ends of those skinny jeans leg openings, a freshly polished pair of shoes always seem to be waiting for your roving eyes.  I mean it! It’s kind of a game. I’m walking on the street. I pass men who meet my eyes . . . for one second . . . before their steely boring gimlets take in my footwear . . . sizing me up as…..what!? I swear I don’t know but perhaps as a guy who wears hiking shoes that do a poor job of accepting polish? Cuenca is also a city filled with business people and they attire themselves in kind with really upscale threads. There’s polish in their manners and also on their shoes.

This may well be the shine capitol of the universe. Ssshhhh . . . the economy might suffer if too many shine men hear the good news and head for these parts below “0”. Keep it mum. While you are though, be sure to check out how sharp this photograph is. It’s just like a razor except for the shine man’s hands and cloth. I allowed them to go soft during my work so I could imply motion within my image. The cloth surely has it as the shine man gives it a snappy “pop” as he buffs that polish to a spit shine! I keep hearing, “The Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy,” by Tennessee Ernie Ford, playing lightly in the background. “Have you ever passed the corner of Fourth and Grand, where a little ball of rhythm runs a shoe shine stand . . . ”

Do you know that tune?! Where you been?! I know, getting a shine!



Brian Buckner

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