For a boxing fan with sharp eyes, dirty shoes and 20�, the best place in the world to get a shine is the Tropical Shoe Shine Parlor on Fifth Street near Washington Avenue in Miami Beach, at noon. For his 20� he will probably get, besides a shine, a close look at two or three world champions, an ex-world champion and a large assortment of boxers of somewhat lesser ability on their way to work.
If he wants to see them sharpening the tools of their trade and he has a dollar, he can follow the champions up a flight of weathered, creaky wooden stairs to the Fifth Street Gym, a large, bare and faintly dilapidated room furnished with a boxing ring, two standards for light bags, two heavy bags, a mirror, a couple of rubbing tables, an old icebox now serving as a storage cabinet for tapes, bandages and other appurtenances of the boxing trade, and Mrs. Hattie Ambusch, who is in charge of all this and who collects the dollar at the door.
Mrs. Ambusch is an elderly lady of indeterminate age who has run the gym for nine years for Chris Dundee, the boxing promoter who owns it. Her husband managed the place until Hattie came up one day and watched him for a while.
"You're not running it right," she said. "Everyone's getting the most of you." She took over and, after her husband's death, she stayed on, although occasionally she longs for her native Brooklyn.
"All of my relatives are there," she says. "I go back once in a while, but I can't leave here for long, and when I do I can't wait to get back. It gives me an interest in life. I know the fighters. I can tell a good one by the way he talks to me. Boys come up here and say they want to fight and I say how good are you and they all say good, but I don't let them fight unless I know they are good, because they can get hurt.
"I demand the highest respect from them. I say to them this is a perfect gym and you have to be perfectly clean and give me the highest respect or you can't work here, and they all do, irrespective of race, religion or creed. I don't have no favorites, but Willie Pastrano is a terrific man. I make them all terrific by the way I train them."
Of course, Mrs. Ambusch does not actually train anyone, even Pastrano. That is done by the professionals who brought along Cassius Clay at the Fifth Street Gym. not to mention Pastrano, Sugar Ramos, the featherweight champion, and Luis Manuel Rodriguez, the ex-welterweight champion who will fight Emile Griffith for the title June 12 in Las Vegas. But Hattie Ambusch does everything else. The other afternoon she helped Fay Pastrano, Willie's wife, ride herd on the five small Pastranos while Willie worked out in preparation for the bout he has scheduled with Greg Peralta in New Orleans on April 10, when Pastrano defends his light heavyweight title.
Pastrano practiced under the testy eye of Lou Gross, a trainer who has been in the business for 40 years. He worked hard, although he objects strenuously to hard work. After it was over and he had retired to the dark, ramshackle confines of the dressing rooms, which are as much a part of the atmosphere of the Fifth Street Gym as the sagging wooden floor, the gray, unwashed windows and the old fight posters Scotch-taped to the wall, he sat in a small cubicle he shares with Heavyweight Mike De John and mopped his streaming face.
"I thought the slaves went out with Lincoln," he said bitterly to Gross. "I been working like one."
Gross is a small man with a growing belly and a ravenous appetite for exercise—if it is Pastrano's exercise.