A boot stamping on a human face…

…forever.  But, if San Francisco’s most famous street vendor has anything to say about it, that boot will be well-shined:

He sleeps under a bridge, washes in a public bathroom and was panhandling for booze money 11 months ago, but now Larry Moore is the best-dressed shoeshine man in the city. When he gets up from his cardboard mattress, he puts on a coat and tie. It’s a reminder of how he has turned things around.

In fact, until last week it looked like Moore was going to have saved enough money to rent a room and get off the street for the first time in six years. But then, in a breathtakingly clueless move, an official for the Department of Public Works told Moore that he has to fork over the money he saved for his first month’s rent to purchase a $491 sidewalk vendor permit.

“I had $573 ready to go,” Moore said, who needs $600 for the rent. “This tore that up. But I’ve been homeless for six years. Another six weeks isn’t going to kill me.”

The bureaucrat told Moore that she found out about his business after reading about his success in this paper.

Most amazingly, Moore was not even indignant and sought to play by the rules, only to have more barriers thrown in his path:

Moore is nothing if not dutiful. He attempted to work his way through the byzantine city government channels, although he didn’t get much help.

“I guess my gripe is that when the city came by and told him to get his papers in order but couldn’t tell him how to do it,” said Travis See, who manages the Custom Shop Clothiers on the corner of Market and New Montgomery. “This lady couldn’t even tell him which building to go to so he could stand in line and waste all day.”

When Moore found the permit application, he got a money order and headed down to the appropriate department to pay. But because he didn’t have a valid ID card, they wouldn’t take his money.

Through all this, Moore maintains a positive attitude and wants to be an upstanding citizen:

The only one who isn’t furious about this is Moore. He insists that city functionaries are giving him a break because they are letting him continue to shine shoes while he waits for a copy of his birth certificate to be sent from Kansas. Once it arrives they will allow him to get an ID card and then hand over almost every cent he has.

I feel compelled to say that Moore is a better man than I. He’s faced the tyranny of the petty bureaucrat with incredible composure, and he deserves every shred of respect and help he’s gotten for this. Fortunately for Mr. Moore, the situation seems to be working out for him:

Reiskin told him his department would help set up the permit, the Homeless Outreach Team van pulled up to see if he wanted to talk about supportive housing, and homeless coordinator Dariush Kayhan sat down in the chair as soon as Reiskin’s shoes were shined.

Moore said he was honored to see them but still charged them his usual fee, $7. (It’s $5 if you are unemployed.)

Moore has set aside the $491 for the permit, which he’ll get as soon as his birth certificate arrives from Kansas and he can get a municipal ID card.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how this mess started. Usually when a city worker tells a street vendor to get a permit, the response is excuses and vague promises. They didn’t expect Moore to take them seriously.

But Moore is a man on a mission.

“I want to be on this corner,” he said. “But you know what? You need me on this corner. You got people in this city getting a free room and free medical but they aren’t doing nothing with their lives. I want people to see me and say, ‘There’s a guy working hard.’ ”

If you’d like to see that, stop by his stand on Market. He starts at 9:30 in the morning, although he might sleep in a little today.

“I am going to go get a room tonight for the whole week,” he said. “I deserve that. At least I think I do.”

I’m very glad Larry Moore will end up sleeping in a bed tonight, and that in the end the generosity of the people of San Francisco has made sure he will be able to pay both his rent and the city.

However, that resolution is a case of the exceptional, while the bureaucracy remains the way of life in San Francisco.  As this case shows, it’s a way of life that deserves to be questioned.  Are the people of San Francisco better off because Larry Moore had to waste time and money having a birth certificate sent 1,500 miles so the city could verify his identity? Are the people better off with $491 of this man’s money going to the city rather than a landlord?  Will Larry Moore suddenly provide service any better because he now has the benediction of the Department of Public Works?

These questions raise the most important one… Just who are these permits supposed to serve?

  • Dave V.

    I’ve got three pairs of shoes to my name, but I’m going to find some way to scratch enough money together to take the kids on a road trip to SF to get them polished.

  • http://qwertyaltofuori.blogspot.com Red

    There is no such thing as common sense it seems.
    This is a clear example of how more government interferes with our lives. I wish I could send this man a pair of shoes myself. Shine on Larry Moore!

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    These questions raise the most important one… Just who are these permits supposed to serve?

    But don’t you understand, Quincy? Society will fall apart if you can’t trust your shoeshine man. Imagine the negative impact to the fabric of our shared experience if you could go to an unlicensed shoeshine man, pay your $7, and perhaps end up with a bad shine!!!

    I’m not sure that’s a world I want to live in. I support the city of San Francisco on this one!

  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy

    Imagine the negative impact to the fabric of our shared experience if you could go to an unlicensed shoeshine man, pay your $7, and perhaps end up with a bad shine!!!

    I see you’ve never dealt with the SF city government. I’ll grant you that Larry Moore is a serious threat to the functioning of SF society since the experience of good service at a reasonable price would cause people to question what they’re getting from City Hall. There may, in fact, be rioting in the streets.

  • http://theholycause.blogspot.com/ Greg

    Thanks for putting a human side on the discussion.

  • navkat

    Great post. Really brings the absurdity to light in a way that sticks in your throat: why DON’T we as a society question these things? Why the city government needs $491 to give a man PERMISSION to shine a shoe?

  • yep… tho, unfortunately, often all those regs and all are result of biz ppl who lack self-respect. there’s probably a healthy history of (attempted) sidewalkjackings by adjacent biz(s)

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  • southernjames

    Large American cities run by conservative Republican political machines – New Orleans and San Francisco are two which come to mind, seem to be in such a mess. We are long overdue to have some enlightened progressives from the Left take charge in those cities. The problem is clearly that there are not ENOUGH regulations, taxes, enforced “diversity” etc.

    Kind of like the Federal govt. If a stimulus bill doesn’t work, all that means is that it wasn’t large enough. We just need bigger stimulus bills and more of them. At least, that is what we’re being told. Get with the program, people. Or Utopia may just pass you by.

  • Merf

    New Orleans and San Francisco are run by Republicans? Since when?

  • southernjames

    Merf. I believe there are some other very conservative republican strongholds too. Miami, Detroit, Washington DC, and Philadelphia are all cities which spring to mind.

    Oh – a personal question: Do you ever suffer from an inability to recognize sarcasm?

  • Merf

    Usually I don’t have that problem. This time, obviously, I did. Thanks for clearing that up for me, southernjames.

  • Akston

    Look, we only have the two options. We can either subsidize it, or prohibit it. That’s it.

    What if we print, say, $12 billion and give it to Mr. Moore?

    Whichever we choose, the government is the solution. I’m a bit surprised that enlightened people tolerate his independent and honorable self-sufficiency. After all, charging for his hard work is simply greed-based. Greed and freedom is what cause our current economic crisis.

  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy

    Actually, Akston, that would be print $1,000 for Mr. Moore and $12 billion for the city to buy black leather shoes to give to its citizens for Mr. Moore to polish. That *is* the logic of the stimulus plan, right?

  • Akston

    LOL. Perfect.