BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - While the rest of the city sleeps, Clyde Lawrence is already well into his day. His job is one your high school guidance counselor probably never mentioned, but by Lawrence's account, all you need to succeed are strong hands and a passion for saving soles.
Most mornings, Lawrence's work day begins around 4:30 a.m., punctuated only by the dripping of an old coffee pot and the rhythmic clack of an old sewing machine, which he cranks by hand. "One stitch at a time!"
On Monday morning, he stitched together the seams of a busted purse, just like he has been doing for more than 40 years.
Lawrence never set out to be a cobbler. Back in 1976, Lawrence moved to Baton Rouge looking for work. He heard he could make good money working in the chemical plants on the Mississippi River. Fate brought him to Fred Milletello's shoe store instead.
"He told me," Lawrence said, "'Once you learn, you'll always have a job.'" And for the past 41 years, Lawrence has polished, glued, heeled, and refreshed the worn soles of the city at the rate of 30 a day, and thousands over a lifetime.
"Working somewhere else" he said, "would just have been a job. Something to bide my time and make a check."
The techniques have not changed much since 1976. Lawrence stills hammers heels and slices soles on the same anvils he used when he was a novice. But the shoe repair business has. "Shoe repair is not what it used to be." Lawrence said. "People tend to throw away things. We are a disposable society."
That doesn't leave much profit for a cobbler. When the man who hired Lawrence said he was getting out of the business, Lawrence, at age 64, was faced with the cold, hard, economic truth. "I thought about my age," he said, "and then, I said, 'Oh well, I'm not going to get any younger, so why not?'"
With that, Lawrence bought the place he had worked for most of his life.
Lawrence's wife, Jerri, could only laugh. "I think he's crazy. I think it's time to take him to a psychiatrist." She came out of retirement from a state job to run the front counter. She had to if she wanted to see her husband. He spends 18 hours or more in the shop each day.
Lawrence could not ask for anything more than breathing new life into old soles, one stitch at a time.