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Shoeshine guys are back Bob Corsale bobC bcorsale@earthlink.net Ferry shoeshine guys are back in business just three weeks after
announcing retirement

January 28, 2000


By MICHAEL J. PAQUETTE
ADVANCE STAFF WRITER

Carmine Rizzo did not take a shine to retirement.

The ferry shoeshine guy was back in business
yesterday, just three weeks after telling the
city Department of Transportation (DOT) he did
not intend to renew his long-standing concession
contract to provide services inside the St. George terminal and aboard the
boats.

But there he was yesterday morning, kneeling on his raggedy pillow, hunched
over a pair of black loafers belonging to a well-dressed man sitting by the
snack bar on the 10:30 Manhattan-bound Gov. Herbert H. Lehman.

"It's not good at home," Rizzo said in his halting
Italian accent after finishing the job. "Working
three days only."

As Rizzo cruised to Manhattan, his spitshine
sidekick, Angelo Passero, was buffing his way to
St. George aboard the Samuel I. Newhouse,
according to Lehman crew members.

Yesterday was the first day back on the boats
for the shoeshine guys since Jan. 5, when
Rizzo's $7,200-a-year DOT concession contract
expired.

Apparently bored with a life of leisure, Rizzo recently signed a new
one-year, $7,600 contract, effective yesterday, to provide shoeshine
services aboard the boats three days a week, according to a DOT spokesman.

Last week, the DOT removed the decrepit shoeshine stand Rizzo once rented
outside the ladies' room at the St. George terminal, the spokesman said. It
was not immediately clear whether the stand will return.

Though Staten Island Ferry staples for decades, little is known about Rizzo
and Passero.

The pair -- who bear a striking resemblance to one another and are often
confused as being the same man or brothers -- have long rebuffed
interview-seeking Advance reporters.

Rizzo reportedly lives in Queens; Passero in Brooklyn. Both men hail from the
same Italian province, Salerno, and communicate with passengers only in
terse phrases of limited English.

When pressed for details on what exactly was "not good" about retirement,
Rizzo said daily episodes of his grandchildren crashing on his sofa wore thin
fast.

"Sit and watch TV all day," he said, dismissing the very thought of idleness
with a wave of his large, weathered hand.

Then, with a sparkle in his eye and a wry smile, Rizzo nodded emphatically
when asked if it felt good to be back on board.

Lehman crew members and ferry patrons also expressed delight at the
shoeshine guy's decision to shelve retirement.

"I was shocked to see him," said a deckhand who lives on the South Shore
but refused to identify himself. "It's good to see [the shoeshine guys] back.
They've been here so long. They're like half the family."

"I missed him the three weeks he was gone," Colleen Mooney, of Port
Richmond, a longtime ferry attendant, said of Rizzo. "He's like one of the
crew. . . . But I told him, he's not getting his box back."

The day after Rizzo's faux retirement, he handed over his treasured
shoeshine box to the crew of the John F. Kennedy. In turn, the crew
presented it -- along with six well-used bristle brushes and an empty tin of
brown Kiwi polish -- to the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences for
eventual display in the Institute's ferry museum inside the St. George
terminal.

Still, Rizzo toted an identical, antiquated twin as he roamed the Lehman
yesterday, puzzling some of the crew.

While politely declining a shine, Kathleen O'Connell, of West Brighton,
offered the irascible bootblack a hearty hello on his return.

"I was glad to see him because there's a history there," she said. "He said,
'Staying home, not good.' I guess he was bored."

Hugo Munoz, the man with the black loafers, knew nothing of the pair's
short-lived retirement. But he was nonetheless happy for a shine.

"Sometimes we look for these services but it's hard to find," said Munoz, a
car service driver from Brooklyn whose vehicle was parked in the belly of
the ferry. "It's an old tradition."

The return of the ferry shoeshine guys came, appropriately enough, on the
heels of some of the season's sloppiest, snowy weather.

"One trip he had three guys lined up to remove salt from their boots and
shoes," Ms. Mooney said.



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