Yesterday, during a torrential downpour, I felt dampness underfoot and discovered my well-worn pair of sneakers had a hole in the sole.
(Have you ever noticed that you don’t discover a hole in your shoe until you’re out in the rain? Just like you never discover you’re out of coffee until that morning when you desperately need a cup. But, I digress.)
By the time I got to the office my sneakers were water-logged and ruined. So, I added a trip to the shoe store to yesterday’s to-do list. I ended up going to Famous Footwear, where I made a beeline directly to the clearance rack and bought this perfectly good pair of size 13 walking shoes for only $35. I’m no runner or roundballer, and I really could care less about style. Shoes are a consumer good where I can easily save a few bucks by going the discount route.
I can also report that it’s nice to have some extra cash in my wallet, and that my first few walks in these El Cheapos were perfectly satisfactory.
I hate shopping on principle, but I really, really hate shoe shopping. Why? Because I think most men’s dress shoe styles look ridiculous, with their pointy-toed or square-toed ends and other decorative flourishes, and they especially look absurd on my gunboat-like size 13 feet. The experience always leaves me feeling like I have a natural set of clown feet.
But, I had no choice. My current set of work shoes were simply so old and worn out that even a shoeshopping-resistant person like me had to admit the time had come. On one pair the sole had worked free and was beginning to flap, on another the heels were falling off, and on a third the vamp had cracked open. And, I have to admit, separate and apart from these structural failings they all looked pretty beat to hell, too.
So today Kish and I went off to one of those mega-shoe stores and I walked down aisles of fancy men’s shoes, trying to find a sturdy pair of black shoes and two pairs of simple brown shoes. I once again learned that shoe sizes vary widely depending upon the manufacturer, that the elves who install the laces on new shoes insist on doing so in a weird and sadistic way, and that male shoe designers apparently have been ingesting psychedelic substances and obtained their inspiration from the footwear of medieval court jesters.
Tomorrow I’ll be wearing some new shoes. They will look ridiculous — of course.
We’ll be taking a much-anticipated vacation in a few weeks, one where we expect to do a lot of walking. I know from bitter experience that nothing can ruin a walkabout holiday faster than sore feet, so I’m trying to be proactive about lining up appropriate footwear.
In my view, there are three crucial aspects to making sure that your dogs aren’t barking at the end of a long walking day. First, you need to buy good shoes (or boots) that are made for walking. That means comfort in the fit and thick soles with lots of cushion, perhaps with a gel insert or two. Second, you need to wear the shoes for a reasonable amount of time before you go on your trip, to break them in and avoid any chafing that might cause blisters. If you take your new shoes out of the box for the first time when you’re on vacation, you’re begging for disaster. And third, get some good socks with a fair amount of padding. I recognize that saying all of this makes me sound like your dorkiest grandfather, or perhaps one of those know-it-alls in the TV commercial about guys who’ve “reached the age of knowing what to do” and can hitch horses to their pickup truck to pull it out of the mud. I don’t care, because I’d rather avoid a situation where I’m focusing on my aching tootsies rather than on architectural beauty and fine art masterpieces and the other wonders that a foreign culture can offer.
I went shopping for my new walking shoes yesterday, and bought two pairs for my trip. One pair is black Reebok walkers that are identical to the pair I wore when Kish and the boys and I tramped all over Italy a few years ago; they were exceptional walking shoes. The other is a pair of brown Dr. Scholl’s work shoes, pictured above. I recognize that they are clunky and they make my feet look Frankensteinian, but they are roomy and comfortable and have lots of foam rubber in the soles. I’m focused on function, not form.
During our recent vacation, Kish and Russell had high times making fun of these tennis shoes. Kish said they looked like golf shoes and called them the Sammy Sneads every time I put them on. Russell, on the other hand, shook his head and sadly advised that shoes made by Skechers are per se uncool.
I bought the shoes at Kohl’s. They were on the bargain shelf and cost a small fraction of the other gym shoes. I didn’t know whether they are socially acceptable or not, because I pay no attention to shoe fashion. I didn’t care whether popular people wear shoes with square toes, round toes, or pointed toes, or whether stripes on the sides are “in” or “out.”
What I did know is that I rebel at the notion of paying more than $100 for a pair of gym shoes that I wear around the neighborhood. The prices of such shoes seem ridiculous for mass-produced rubber, plastic, and cloth creations. Obviously, people are paying for brands and status symbols.
I could care less about that. I admit I’m a cheapskate. I’ll go for low cost and functionality over “branding” any time. I’m not a runner. I don’t play competitive sports. I’m not trying to make a fashion statement when I go for a walk.
Give me durable shoes that fit and leave money in my wallet, and I’ll wear them happily — “Sneads” or not.
You only discover a hole in your shoe on a rainy day.
It happened to me this morning, on a bleak day when the rain was pelting down, pitting the wet streets, and water was sluicing down the gutters. I was struggling with two balky and miserable dogs, their two leashes, a tiny, windblown umbrella, and a bag full of dog poop that needed to be tied off when I sensed an unwelcome flow of moisture into my right heel. Soon my sock was sodden, and by the time we made the last turn for home my foot was soaked and each step was like pressing down onto a wet sponge.
Curiously, my shoe had a hole in the heel rather than the sole, which is where the failure typically occurs. How that happened is anybody’s guess. But the location of the hole, really, makes no difference. The key point is that a shoe with a hole in it is perfectly serviceable on dry days; it’s only when you need the fully functional shoe most desperately that the defect presents itself. In that sense, a shoe with a hole in it is like a fair-weather friend.
I’m a big walker, and I knew we would be walking a lot during our stay in Paris. It is easy, and a good way to see the city as you move from museum to church to formal garden.
A few weeks before I left Columbus, my old sneakers gave out, and I went to buy some new ones. I chose some black Sonoma shoes that are comfortable and well-suited to a jaunt around the Yantis Loop. I am sorry to report that they have been a dismal failure as a Parisian walking shoe, however. They simply lack the padding needed to adequately shield my large, very flat feet from the constant pounding of foot against pavement, foot against marble floor, foot against dusty path, and foot against cobblestone.
I wore the shoes on the day we walked to the Arc de Triomphe and the day we strolled to and through the Louvre, and by the end of those days my dogs were really barking. I was afraid that when I took my shoes off, I would find nothing but bloody stumps. So, I switched to some much less fashionable but thickly soled old brown shoes, and my feet are once again happy campers.
By the way, when your feet are killing you you tend to notice things like the lack of floor covering. I say it’s high time that the French discovered the glories of wall-to-wall carpeting.
I am sorry to say that my favorite walking shoes are starting to give out. They are black Reebok walking shoes, and I think they are the single best pair of shoes I’ve ever owned.
My Reebok walking shoes
I bought the shoes seven years ago, before we left on our family trip to Italy. I wanted some comfortable walking shoes, and they filled the bill admirably. They have trod the dust of the Roman ruins and stepped quietly through the marbled halls of the Vatican; they have strolled the grounds of Chichen Itza and walked boldly across the plaza facing Mount Rushmore. Most importantly, they have accompanied me on my morning walks in New Albany, over snow and ice, through rain and muck, in frigid climes and baking summer heat, for years and years and years.
Now, however, they are starting to fail. I’ve tried to ignore it, but the signs are there. The toes are frayed, the heels and soles are worn down, and occasionally I feel telltale moisture indicating that they have sprung a leak. Soon the shoes will need to be put in semi-retirement, perhaps to be worn only on dry, warm days, and then finally to be retired altogether. It will be a sad day.
When I was a kid, my favorite sneakers were Red Ball Jets. At the heel of the shoe, where the rubber label was, they had a bright red ball that looked like the afterburner on a jet. They were cool-looking and definitely made you run faster — and as an overweight kid, I needed all the help I could get!
I happened to mention Red Ball Jets today, and to my disgust the people I was talking to scoffed at the idea that they ever existed. So, I ran a Google search, and to my amazement not only are there webpages discussing Red Ball Jets, there are even vintage, unworn pairs of kid-sized Red Ball Jets for sale on ebay — pairs like this one. They look just like I remembered. I can almost feel the cool canvas and smell the sharp new rubber tang in the air as I lace them on and run outside on a hot summer day.