When we first moved to New Orleans in 1999, we saw flyers in the Quarter warning tourists not to be suckered into making any wagers on the provenance of their footwear. Over the intervening years, I’ve been accosted by any number of fine gentlemen who’ve assured me that they know where I got my shoes, and I’ve dutifully brushed them off.
Therefore, though I’ve heard tales, I’ve never actually seen the famous scam in action.
Until last night.
Mardi and Leo (aka Mike Leonard) are in town for a columnist convention. Leo writes a column for the Herald-Times in Bloomington. We got together for dinner at Coop’s Place. Many thanks to Mardi for picking up the tab.
After dinner we were walking along the river. A guy came up to Leo and offered him a shoeshine. I immediately knew what was up, but somehow I didn’t know what to say, and the guy was working Leo so fast. “I bet I can tell you where you got them shoes. Exactly where you got ’em and in what city.” The stakes: a shoeshine.
Being a good-natured Hoosier, Leo took the bet. And then, the inexorable rejoinder: “You got your shoes on your feet — in New Orleans.” And without pausing a beat, he bent down and squirted some sketchy white liquid on the tops of Leo’s shoes.
The price to wipe the stuff off? Five dollars. He wanted $5 per shoe. Leo just gave him a fiver and laughed it off.
I felt like a prime dumbass, letting my friend walk into that. I should have interrupted, fended the guy off. But it was educational. Maybe Leo will get a column out of it.
It occurs to me that this routine could work anywhere, or at least in any city where a bunch of tourists are walking around. Yet it seems to be very much associated with New Orleans. I wonder why that is.