Gliding down Washington Avenue on his longboard at breakneck speed, Yankel Guzman, 29, makes a quick stop in front of the courthouse on 12th Street to get his shoes shined whenever he gets a chance.
“I’m a bartender, so my shoes are always getting dirty,” Guzman said, pointing down to a well-worn, soiled pair of sneakers. “I come here to get them cleaned about once a month.”
Guzman is one of Earl Randolph’s regular and loyal customers.
Every morning for the past 21 years, Randolph, 64, has been trekking by bus down from his small studio apartment at the north end of Miami Beach to South Beach with his shoeshine kit, two milk crates and a tall director’s chair to set up his stand on a busy corner of Washington Avenue.
Sitting on his milk crate, Randolph, known to many beach natives as “Dr. Shine,” has held in his hands every type of shoes: from fancy and expensive dress shoes to gym shoes, and everything in between.
“I am out here every day,” Randolph said. “I have probably shined or cleaned about 10,000 pairs of shoes.”
Originally from New York City, Randolph came to visit Miami with his wife, Gloria, and two children, Samantha, 23, and Justin, 19, in 1992 and decided to stay.
“I came for a vacation, and I’m still on it,” Randolph said. “It’s too cold in New York.”
Randolph charges $6 for a shine, but if a customer can answer one of his riddles, the shoeshine is on the house.
“His riddles are harder than you would think,” Guzman said. “I usually get the answer wrong and have to pay, but there have been a couple of times that I got the question right and he gives me a free shine.”
To earn his free shine, Guzman had to name 10 parts of the human body that only have three letters. His answer: ear, eye, toe, jaw, lip, gum, arm, leg, rib and hip.
Guzman admitted that Dr. Shine had to give him a couple of hints along the way.
Five days a week, Randolph sets up his stand in front of the Miami Beach District Court, but his operation is mobile, and he often moves where there are more people.
On weekends, he places his stand closer to the nightlife scene.
“I catch folks going in and coming out of the clubs,” Randolph said. “Every once in a while, some of them give me problems. They yell or don’t want to pay after I’m done. That usually happens late at night after they have been drinking. ”
But for the most part, people are kind to Randolph.
Jennifer Gordon lives in Miami Beach just blocks away from Randolph’s usual haunt on Washington Avenue and sees him almost daily.
“He is always out here when I walk the dog,” said Gordon, who owns a Chihuahua. “I have never actually gotten my shoes shined by him, but he is really friendly and I talk to him all the time.”
Randolph said that most locals know him and usually stop to say hello.
Karen Brown, executive director of the Miami Beach Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Visitors Center, has a bird’s-eye view of the shoeshine stand from her office window and sees Randolph every morning.
“He is such a fixture that when he disappeared for a few hours the other day, we got worried about him,” Brown said.
But not everyone at Miami Beach holds Randolph in high esteem. For some, he is just another nuisance.
Isabelle Fernandez is general manager of the 11th Street Diner across from the courthouse on Washington Avenue.
“He used to set up right in front of our entrance. This was his spot before he moved across the street,” Fernandez said. “But because of his behavior, we had to ask him to move.”
She said that when Randolph was set up in front of the restaurant, he would shout to every passerby, including restaurant customers, asking if he could shine their shoes. She said Randolph also constantly asked to use the bathroom and for free cups of coffee.
“At first, it was tolerable and we tried to be nice,” Fernandez said. “But after a while, he started to take advantage and whenever we had to say no to a request, he had a bad attitude.”
But Randolph is unapologetic for his behavior and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon.
With his shabby clothes and unofficial-looking stand, he takes pride in his work and maintains a cheerful demeanor, always tossing out one-liners to every passerby.
“You can’t blame a man for trying to work,” he said. “I am just doing what I need to do to make a living, and I am honest. I am not stealing or begging for money.”