Does Anyone Polish Their Shoes Anymore? Tales of the Nostalgic


I was sitting with some dear friends in front of a campfire this summer when one of them turned to me and asked, “Does anyone polish their shoes anymore?” I do, in fact, polish my shoes—at least the black leather ones I wear from fall through spring, but I find it more and more difficult to find shoe polish in the store. It’s tucked away on an endcap in my local pharmacy, and the pickings are slim. My grandmother, who worked for many years for Bostonian Shoes in Manhattan (the brand now appears to be owned by Clarks), would be horrified. Among other things, she taught me to never wear a pair of new shoes in the rain.

So this fireside chat got me thinking: what else has gone the way of 8-track tapes and the Rolodex? I was interested to learn that the Rolodex—the name is a blend of the words “rolling” and “index”—is nearly as old as I am. The ones that are sold today are considered “replicas.” Ouch. I still have one, though mine is in a box, rather than on a wheel. If your phone number is in there, we have known each other for a very long time.

I posed my question to family and friends and received interesting responses that differed, somewhat, along generational lines. Here, in no particular order, is what some of us still do and many of us have long given up.

  • Send hand-written thank you notes. I remember struggling to get my son to write thank you notes for birthday and Christmas presents—grandparents get very upset and threaten to withhold future gifts if they don’t. If you have a difficult time getting your children to do so, perhaps it’s because you don’t write thank you notes, either. Guilty. Emily Post says they are appropriate to any occasion, and people always appreciate receiving them. In fact, I opened the mail recently to find a lovely thank you note and was truly touched. A young friend told me she not only writes thank you notes by hand but often delivers them in person. Extra points for that (plus it saves on stamps). I also am guilty of sending party invites and birthday wishes by text. My grandmother is turning in her grave.
  • Use paper maps. My best friend’s daughter had this to say about using maps:

I give your generation credit. It’s hard enough as it is navigating busy highways and exit ramps near cities, while I have a moving map on my phone or computer telling me where to go. I can’t imagine having to look at a paper map while driving and do the same type of navigation.

My generation—ouch again. Truth be told, I never use a paper map for the simple reason that I can’t read them. I am severely directionally challenged. I like being given turn-by-turn directions. But, though some mapmakers are closing up shop, research reveals that, at least when walking, those using a good, old-fashioned paper map actually get where they are going more quickly. Those who did the best at finding their way? The ones who asked someone for directions and followed what they said. My husband likes the TripTiks—those handy, custom-made maps that come free with membership in AAA. You can still have a TripTik made, though they are now assembled using computer-generated printouts.

  • Consult a physical dictionary. The dictionary is dead; long live the (digital) dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary, considered by some to be the definitive tome, will likely never be printed again. Then again, the third edition will fill some 40 volumes and not be ready until 2034; that’s a long way to wait for something that won’t easily fit on your desk. I use online dictionaries, or the app I have on my phone, but I also still own a hardcover version that I pull off the shelf from time to time. Often, I find myself using it as much for instructions on usage as for definitions. Plus, I like the feel of a book in my hand (see below).
  • Read a print book. Booksellers and print lovers cheered when The New York Times reported last fall that e-book sales had slipped and proclaimed “print is far from dead.” The paper noted that there were 300 more independent bookstores operating in 2015 than in 2010, and that sales of dedicated e-reading devices had plunged. Still, the New York Times and others pointed out that this may be more about how readers consume printed matter, moving away from traditional publishing in the form of either print books or e-books and toward self-published works. Observers also noted that the increased price of e-books may have been responsible for sluggish sales.

I will let the industry experts hash this out while I bury my nose in a “real” book. I like to hold it in my hands. I love the smell of fresh ink. I enjoy seeing others reading a paperback or hardcover book as I pass through an airport and striking up a conversation (loved it, how about you?). You can’t see what they are reading on their tablet or e-reader (though perhaps that’s part of the allure). I will download to my tablet something I need quickly for work, but for pure pleasure reading, nothing replaces a print book for me. Perusing independent and used bookstores is one of my favorite vacation pastimes.

So, I still own a Rolodex, read print books, and polish my shoes. I don’t know if this means I’m nostalgic or just set in my ways, but thinking about this has been a fun, end-of-summer diversion. Next week, the real work begins.

What can you add to this list?

Susan Milstrey Wells is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Janice John Roper-Graham

Thanks Susan. I have a kindle but also a shelf full of books. Physical books can be readily shared and left out to tempt my kids to read. I’ve followed many magazines until they vaporized into the ether but still faithfully read “Time,” “National Geographic” and “The Week” in print. I can add VHS and cassette tapes – and probably soon DVDs and CDs. Cameras. Wrist watches (wearing one now). Whew! I’m feeling old! Thanks for a fun blog.


My husband is The Master Cobbler here in San Jose and I can assure you that his customers appreciate a good shoe shine, especially when it comes gratis with a substantial shoe repair order. Polished and / or well kept shoes say a lot about a person.

We also have a landline at home with a rotary dial! The kids love it. One other item to add to the list is the FAX machine, oh yeah! We have one in our emergency operations center as a back up communication device ; ) . Business cards are also on the way out, don’t you think?

Mark Hammer

“Hello, may I please speak to…”. Telephones used to be for, and specify, a location. Now they are for a person, such that few children have to master that first exercise in etiquette of asking if they could speak to so-and-so (usually their friend), because the number reaches that friend directly.

The thick newspaper. newspapers have gotten thinner; for a number of reasons. 1) The number of reporters in many papers have been cut back, so local coverage is reduced. 2) Advertisers that used to pay for space in the paper show up as flyers in the mailbox now, or simply as banner ads on websites. 3) Classified ads have migrated elsewhere, to this list and that. Thank goodness we still have obituaries, though heaven knows how long those will last before they all move to some website. Clearly, we’re all going to have to get smaller birdcages or neater birds because there won’t be much left to line the cages with (“It’s only Thursday. Better keep your poop to yourself for a few more days.”)

And with the demise of the newspaper, the disappearance of the paperboy and the high/middle school paper route.

As for maps, never underestimate the power of a map that shows you everything in context. GPS and voice-activated apps are doing for sense of direction what four-banger calculators did for basic arithmetic abilities.

Where is the “virtual vinyl” app that progressively adds synthetic surface noise, distortion, and scratches to MP3s as you play them more? I don’t want them to sound pristine, I want them to sound *loved*.

I’ll catch you on the flip-side.


Thanks, Mark, for reminding me how I was taught to respond when someone answered the phone. Those were the days. But, oh, those poor birds. 🙂