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BAY AREA'S KING OF SOLE : SHOESHINER EXALTS WORK ETHIC.

Byline: Martha Irvine Associated Press

He calls himself famous. His customers are ``high rollers.''

His real name is Kenny Bowens. But when this Oakland native crosses San Francisco Bay and sets foot on his corner of downtown San Francisco, he's ``Famous Wayne, shoeshine king of the world.''

``See how I shine a man's shoes?'' the 39-year-old Bowens asks. ``I shine a man's shoes like they're mine.''

It's not like there's no competition out there. Even his own corner abounds with shoeshine stands, bicycle rickshaws and panhandlers - all vying for a buck from tourists awaiting cable cars and business people on lunch breaks.

But people in search of a shine say there's something different about Wayne, who's been on this corner at Market and California streets for 10 years.

It could be his gray top hat, cowboy boots and the months of shoe polish under his fingernails. Perhaps it's his dancing. Or the music - from Tina Turner to Tchaikovsky - that blares from his boom box. Or maybe it's his discount cards for repeat customers and ``better-than-an-airport'' shoeshine.

Most likely, it's all of the above.

``Wayne is a virtuoso. He's turned shining shoes into an art form,'' says Mark Yowe, a partner in an executive search firm who's been coming to Wayne's five-seat stand for more than two years.

Wayne loves to talk about boxing, his beloved San Francisco Giants and especially his children, ages 10, 12 and 14.

And he's a born philosopher.

``He can put on the show and play and jive with the best of them,'' says Mark Oczkus, a regular customer who works in marketing for a real estate company. ``But he also knows what's going on socially and politically. This man reads the newspaper.''

Yowe agrees.

``A guy like Wayne teaches us that you gotta love what you do to be good at it,'' he says. ``And he hates the competition. He'll stand here and scream at them.

``That's the purest form of American capitalism.''

Making a living aside, his customers and friends know Wayne as a man who's used his business to help street kids earn money and learn a trade. Some of the kids don't want to be there, Wayne says. But others - some of whom are now adults - have worked with him for years.

``I tell them, `You can be anybody you wanna be. And, if you need money, you can always shine shoes,' ' says Wayne, who started shining shoes at age 5 after his mother bought him a shoeshine kit for Christmas.

``Then I started getting real famous,'' he adds, grinning.

Some people give him a hard time for being an African-American man who shines white men's shoes, he says. But he pays his detractors no mind.

``I love everybody. I'm not racist,'' he says. ``I'll shine anybody's shoes.''

Darrell Williams, a salesman for Xerox, can vouch for that.

``He yanked me off the street and gave me one of his cards,'' Williams says, laughing. ``There's no escaping Famous Wayne.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) Kenny Bowens, better known as ``Famous Wayne' ' to his large clientele, can't resist giving two identical twins a free shoeshine.

(2) Kenny Bowens spruces up his stand at the corners of Market and California streets in downtown San Francisco.

Associated Press
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 28, 1996
Words:544
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