Union Station's Best
There’s an old, lost world, breathing its final breath out there, you know? A world of romance and class. Of charisma and decadence. A world in harmonious paradox, which exists — just barely — in the craft of a few romantic artisans. Marco Ramirez is one: a true craftsmen and gentleman. One of the last unburned bridges our new world has back to a simple, beautiful past.
Marco began shining shoes for a living at twenty. He was fresh out of the military and received an opportunity at the LA Athletic Club. “It’s funny,” says Marco. “When I was twelve or thirteen, my friend and I used to hit the streets with a little shoeshine box and I never paid attention…now, when we look at Downtown, there’s not too many people who shine shoes. I’m very fortunate — I’m glad I stuck around, because today the reward is there.”
Today, his empire stretches from the Athletic Club to Union Station, where he has now been serving the commuter community for almost two years. Where he once found himself amongst friends at the club, he now finds himself amidst strangers — some 65,000 per day — but that’s not quite how he sees it. “Being in customer service for 30 to 40 years, talking just becomes natural,” says Marco. “Since we depend on people, you’ve got to be good with people. I got better as I got older, but besides that, it’s a gift.” To him, they’re all friends.
An average shoeshine takes 10-12 minutes for Marco or his business partner, Filemon Ruano. They often gets customers with only five minutes at Union Station though. “I do my best in five minutes for what they want,” Marco explains. “It’s not what I like, or what I want to do, but the customer is right. If he has five minutes, that means I’ve got to move my ass!”
Aesthetically, there’s no better setting for a man like Marco. The historic station’s iconic tiling and design sensibilities are the perfect backdrop to a well-shined shoe; the hard-polished floors a perfect surface for the hollow, echoing clop of an oxford. “I’m inside a living museum,” Marco says. “Yes, the times have changed where people are not as dress-orientated as before, but we also do tennis shoes and other leather repairs, so somehow we’re able to work with a variety of different people.”
In his spare time — what little there is of it anyway when you spend all day shuttling between the station and club on the Metro — he’s a marathon runner, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. More than that, he’s a true Downtowner, as much a part of the fabric of this town as any skyline, theatre or restaurant.
So when you next find yourself needing a breath of the old world and its glimmering, passe soul — or perhaps just with fifteen minutes between trains — traverse Union Station’s narrow tunnel to Marco’s throne and let his craft transport you back. Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!
Written by Steve Day
Photographed by Christian Thomas