There is one less job in heaven now. Shoeshine man. Ellie has accepted the position.
Ellie Dimaya was a fixture at Niagara Car Wash downtown for years. Then he took up residence, much as a musician might, at the Whitewater Car Wash and Lube on Rosedale Highway.
If you had your car washed at either place, you probably saw him. If you cared about your shoes, you probably used him. If you wore the shoes to a wedding, work or to dinner, you probably received a compliment because of him.
Sure, you could shine your own shoes, but how could it be as much fun? When Ellie, who died recently at 81, snapped the hand towel for a final buffing, how could it match the excitement?
Men know there is nothing more pleasurable than a good shoeshine. It’s better than massage. A shoeshine is up there with getting your neck shaved with a straight razor by an old-fashioned barber.
Like any good shoeshine man, Ellie had his secrets. His was conditioner. The last time I saw him at Whitewater on Rosedale, Ellie was excited about his conditioner and felt that it could be his legacy.
“The secret is the banana peel,” he said. “That’s all I can tell you about it.”
Ellie’s conditioner, which he put into clear plastic bottles, would clean your shoes, melt the wax, condition the leather and make your shoes shine until they glowed.
It was one of those miracle products that probably could have cured whooping cough, smoothed wrinkles and sealed a cracked engine block.
Ellie was always on the verge of a big idea. Years ago, he built a drive-through shoeshine stand at Rainbow Car Wash on the corner of White Lane and Wible replete with a canopy, several cactus and some plaster of Paris angels cemented in the asphalt.
“You drive in, open your door, swing your feet out and I shine your shoes. It takes one minute,” Ellie said.
He charged $2. Ellie imagined training people and sticking the drive-throughs in car washes all over the world.
“The drive-throughs can make more than $200 a day,” Ellie says. “I’ll get half.”
Ellie shined shoes for more than 65 years, starting as a boy in the Philippines, supporting himself through business college. He immigrated to America in 1982 where he and his wife, Agnes, worked in the grapes and asparagus in both Vallejo and Delano, before he returned to shining shoes.
One day, he made a pitch to the owner of Niagara Car Wash on 24th Street.
“I can bring customers in,” Ellie said.
“When can you start?” the owner said.
“In an hour,” Ellie said.
Ellie made $69 the first day. In lieu of paying rent at the car wash, he cleaned the bathrooms, mopped the floors, polished the mirrors and kept the bathrooms in toilet paper.
His shoeshine prowess was only part of his charm. The father of two — daughter Jocelyn and son Armand — could have given lessons in manners and he did teach ballroom dancing at the senior centers around town. Ellie’s grace coupled with his well-polished shoes made him a much desired partner on the dance floor.
His family made him stop shining shoes five years ago when he had surgery for lung cancer. Ellie would sneak out and go to Rosedale to make sure that Virgil Simos, his daughter’s father-in-law, was taking good care of his old customers.
“When he was dying, I told him my pastor Phil Neighbors (a longtime customer) wanted to visit him,” said his daughter Jocelyn. “Dad told me to have him meet him at the shop where he would shine his shoes himself.”
At the service, his grandchildren and nephews and nieces sang “Dancing in the Sky.”
Ellie loved to dance. He shined shoes. He was waiting for the next big idea.