When President Bush rolled up his pants and showed off his cowboy boots at an inaugural ball, Rocky Carroll couldn't have asked for better advertising.
Not that he needs it. Carroll's boots - which he makes for presidents, country-western singers and professional athletes, among others - are so popular that longtime customers have to drive around the block a few times just to park at his RJ's Boot Co. shop."Before he became famous, he used to fix all my high heels," Donna Meyer said recently while picking up a pair of boots Carroll repaired. "Oh, he is still fixing them for me, but he is so busy now."
"I love what I do," Carroll said. "I was raised in a shoe shop. My mother said I used to suck on a leather heel and cut my first tooth on an old heel."
Carroll's grandparents started the business in the east Texas town of Tenaha. The craft was passed to his parents, who taught Carroll. Carroll, who made his first boot at age 10, has passed the trade to his son and daughter. They, in turn, operate two other shops in Houston.
Bush, for one, is getting to be a regular customer. The president's office called before his recent Far East trip. The request: four pairs of boots.
The call came on a Friday afternoon. The White House wanted the boots by Tuesday, a day before the president's departure.
Carroll had the boots in Washington by Monday night. Among them was a black pair that had a Chinese flag on the front shoe and an American flag on its companion. Bush gave a pair to Chinese Premier Li Peng.
The 51-year-old bootmaker had earlier made a pair for Bush at the request of Houston Police Department officers who escort the president when he visits his hometown.