Worn into the wooden box are the impressions of weary shoes that rested, for a brief moment, in the hands of Addis Michael Jr. He smoothes away the scuffs with polish, repairing what is broken. Because damage is often a reason to dismiss and dispose, his service is unusual. "There ain't too many shoeshiners around," he says. "That's why I built my box."
Leather and suede shoes, wallets and coats all pass through his hands. Even tennis shoes "for the young people." The trade is not only a source of pride but also a means of existence in the struggle to find steady employment.
In Georgia he was a concrete finisher until he was injured on the job and descended into a coma. Six months later he emerged with a disabling head injury. "I never went back to work again." He came to Seattle to be near his children and search for work. Twenty years later, he's still looking.
With a perfect driving record, he's hoping to find a job behind the wheel of a Metro bus or a delivery truck. In the meantime, he sells Real Change, supporting his girlfriend, Triva, and two-year-old son, Addis Michael III. Triva's success overcoming addiction motivated Michael to overcome his own, he says: "She's just an inspiration in my life."
When not selling Real Change or shoeshining, you can find Michael serving sandwiches, picking up paper or handing out drinks in Pioneer Square and Occidental Park. "I like people," Michael says. "I treat people the way I want to be treated."
You can find Addis Michael Jr. at Third Ave. and Pike St. downtown.