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What happened to the Aztec Indians? One day there, the next day not. Some say aliens took them, others claim they were aliens. Still others believe they just vibrated to a higher level of existence. Who knows? It’s possible we’ll learn the truth when we get to the end of the Mayan calendar next year. But more likely it’s a mystery that will remain unsolved for some time.

The mystery of where the hell I have been these last many months is one I will solve for you in this post. Last we spoke, we were talking about boots, different types, different looks, different fits. It all seems so quaint, thinking about it now, because something transformative happened between then and now: I have vibrated to a higher level. Let me explain.

In May of last year, I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit my parents in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. Hard to believe they’re still hanging in there, but that’s a story for another time. While there, we strolled downtown, like we always do, window-shopping and people-watching. Santa Fe is one of the great shopping towns in the world if you like the kinds of things they sell there – American Indian and Western folk art. I happen to like that stuff. While there, a seed that had been planted in my mind many years earlier suddenly germinated and rapidly grew into an obsession.

Perhaps shooting the shit with you about footwear lo these many moons was precisely the fertilizer that old seed needed. Whatever.

I have always wondered what it would be like to wear custom-made cowboy boots. If you’re a reader of this column, you’ll remember I had a stint in off-the-shelf boots way back in high school. But I’d never had the inclination, nor the resources, to explore the custom cowboy boot world. Well, walking the streets of Santa Fe on that beautiful May morning, the idea would not leave me along, and so, like following a divining rod to water, I led my entire family to the Lucchese Boot Company store on Water Street.

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I have gone insane.

You probably thought the pressures of the down economy had kept me from shopping (and writing about it) of late, but the truth is far scarier. Much has happened, dear reader, since my last post – and I’m now ready to tell all. It began months ago during a routine trip to NY. I had an hour to kill before a lunch meeting at the Hard Rock in Times Square (which rocks, btw), so I decided to use Yelp on my iPhone to find a great shoe store near my hotel. Yelp pointed me to Benedetti Shoes on 34th, near Macy’s, that, according to the reviews, sold “exquisite, Italian hand-made shoes.” Bingo. So I hacked through 10 blocks of sidewalk-fashion-district insanity only to discover that my destination had “relocated,” due to the fact the building was being renovated by some Korean multinational. Destined to be a retail Mecca sometime in the future, no doubt. But for now, there I stood, heartbroken that there was no shoe gold at the end of my rainbow.

Then I noticed Famous Footwear.

Famous Footwear? I know they sell a lot of shoes to a lot of people, but Burke Andrews had never darkened the doorstep of an FF, likely for fear of being spotted slumming by TMZ. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I was in NY with no time to get to 8th street, I freakin’ needed some shoes, bad. So, I sucked it up and jaywalked 34th right in the door of Famous Footwear.

It was as bad as I feared, mobs of be-socked shoppers promiscuously trying on white Reebok high-tops and late-model Timberlands. I scanned the tops of the display shelves looking for something truly interesting. What’s this? A decent looking shoe, in FF? I pulled on the pair of side-zip black boots, with the below-ankle style of a clip-toe cowboy boot. $95? I quickly took a picture with my phone and emailed it to my personal assistant. “What do you think?” No answer. F-it, who cares that I never heard of Zodiac shoes, they look cool, pointy and booty, and I was jonesing. I would have bought a pair of Capezios just to stop the shouting in my head.

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Can someone tell me what makes a shoe a sneaker?

Wikipedia says “a term used in American English for a casual athletic shoe”; while Dictionary.com (from my iPhone) defines it as “a high or low shoe, usually of fabric such as canvas, with a rubber or synthetic sole.” Um, I’m feeling like I can drive a bus through those definitions. Maybe I’m better off asking what isn’t a sneaker. Anyway, whatever the true definition is, I’m going to talk about sneakers, ’cause my latest pair of shoes is what I call sneakers.

They aren’t the trendy, classic sneakers. I’m not really a fan of classic sneaks. I’ve never been able to sport the Top Sider, Chuck Taylor, or Jack Purcell with any conviction. And I never thought they were even remotely comfortable. Their thin waffle soles made me feel like I was walking on a real waffle – spongy and soggy with zero support. Back in the day I did love me some Stan Smiths though, and they were classics. Went through six or eight pairs as a kid. I loved the look and they were cushy and comfortable. I especially loved their weird sole pattern, like someone cut a thin slice off a wad of rubbery spaghetti noodles and glued all the little bits to the bottom of the shoe. They gripped like crazy and left the coolest print in the playground sand. Pretty sure you can still get them. But white sneakers on a guy in his 40s is a sign you still live with your mother.

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The bottom is behind us, if you will. That’s what I’m hearing, at least. The end of bad times is nigh.

Who knows if it’s true — certainly not the world’s economists — but what I know is I’ve had just about enough of picking through the closet looking for old shoes and pretending they’re new (see previous post). It was a good thought, but it didn’t really satisfy. And, making matters worse (and better) is that the agency I have some affiliation with is working on the now famous (infamous?) pitch for one of my absolute favorite brands. Zappos. That’s right, the all-time ultimate cyber-shoe store (and so much more, they would hasten to remind us), Zappos.com.

My feet are singing just thinking about it.

In fact, as part of our homework, I’ve had to spend a lot of time browsing the Zappos site. I know, tough duty, but someone had to do it. My favorite discovery so far is explore.zappos.com – talk about WOW. It’s an entirely new way to shop for shoes, and it totally kicks ass. It allows you to look at shoes that are “like” other shoes, all on one page. It’s a miracle of data management and so exactly what I want when I shop that I found myself browsing for hours. In fact, so much so, that I finally couldn’t resist buying a pair. This time, however, instead of looking at roughly 25 pairs, before selecting a few, I looked at probably 200 pairs and picked one. How psyched is Zappos? Way. A ton less stuff for me to send back.

So, what did I get? Well, allow me to regale you with the story of my first new pair in way too long.

I’ve always fancied picking up a pair of “combat-style” boots. Something badass and army-ish, but chic. I especially dig those Special Forces types with the fabric and leather, tough and light. But the biggest issue with those kinds of boots is the lacing, and that had always kept me from enlisting in a pair. I never understood why there were no zippers. My handsome Orvis wading boots are lace-ups that also have a zip up the side — for easy on-off once you’ve set your size. So why isn’t that an option?

Well, thanks again to Zappos, I discovered that it is. By using their new search tool, I found a pair of combat boots from Guess that are both awesome and zip up the side. I know, Guess?? It never would have dawned on me either. So the new search engine helped me find something I never, ever would have found. And while you can snicker at the brand — and at Burke Andrews, Esq., for wearing it — these kicks look cool, and that’s Burke’s bottom line.

Anyway, in an unlikely move, I ordered one pair in size 11 – not my usual six pairs. They arrived two days later (ordered in the evening), and, yes, they kick ass. They have a cool, square-toe with a slight taper, so they aren’t too clunky looking. Nice and shiny, too — but not too much. And they have cool fabric uppers and just might be the most comfortable combat boots a soldier of style ever wore.

Ahhh, it feels good to be back in a new pair of shoes. More than ever, I look forward to marching toward a robust recovery.

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It has been a long while since these tired feet have felt the loving grasp of a new pair of shoes. How they have longed to be held closely by a new pair of hand-crafted cowhide uppers and cushioned by fresh man-made, air-filled soles. But it is 2009, after all – the Great Recession – and like you, I’m learning to live with less. So, I’ve actually resisted the urge to buy a new pair of shoes — and not once, but several times.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve tried them on. I still browse the shoe stores, where the desperate sales people are more than happy to get me another pair of 10.5’s in brown from the back room, only to gaze at my back, crestfallen, as I leave empty-handed.

I’m also likely on Zappos’ most-hated list, cause I keep taking advantage of their generous offer of free shipping both ways to try stuff on. But, despite a regular flow of large white boxes, nothing has succeeded in separating me from my money in a long time. And, frankly, my feet are pissed. They’re getting bored. They think I don’t love them anymore.

So what is a shoe-a-holic to do in such a crisis? How can I get my feet to feel loved again, without getting that look from my wallet? Well, dear reader, there is always a way.

Two years ago, my feet and I visited an excellent outlet mall in Cabazon near Palm Springs. At one particular shoe store, they were selling Skechers at the bargain basement price of “Buy one pair and get 50% off the second.” Having no need whatsoever for two pair, I immediately and impulsively purchased two pair: casual, low-top shoes — one brown lace-up, one black slip-on — with a groovy European vibe I thought might work with jeans.

Turns out the black ones got a lot of use. They were comfy and cool, and I found myself wearing them more than I expected. The browns, on the other hand, not so much. Not sure why, maybe I had a lot of brown at the time and just didn’t need another pair. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, it’s just that they never seemed to earn their way into the first-string rotation.

Well, faced with the new economic reality of our times, I recently went to the guest room closet (the official last resting place of shoes on their way out) with the hopes of discovering something exciting in there that maybe I had overlooked. And there they were – worn only a handful of times and looking as good as the day I bought them.

Hmmm, could they temporarily satisfy the urge for “newness” my feet had been craving?

Well, they are on my feet as I type this and all seems well. I’m not sure they’ll ever rise to the first string, but they are definitely moving into the bedroom closet – and off the termination list. And, because they haven’t been worn much, my feet are living the snug, supportive existence of their pre-recession selves.

Crisis averted. Fiscal sanity preserved. But will it last…?

If you had told me four months ago that I’d soon be hurtling across the middle of Denmark in a high-speed train wearing a pair of clogs, I would have said you were high.

But here I am, in seat 26 of the IC121 train, speeding across the snow-covered countryside on my way to a meeting in Herning, Denmark. And the weirdest part is that I am actually wearing clogs. Not the old-timey wood clogs worn to repair a hole in some errant dike. No, I’m wearing a pair of slick black Sanitas – the original Danish clog, made here since 1907. They are quite comfortable and actually quite cool looking – a two-tone sole and steel toe ensure they are sufficiently butch for my idiom. At a glance, they sort of look like boots. But trust me, they’re clogs.

So how, pray tell, did I end up in this unlikely predicament? Interesting story (to me, at least). A few months ago, I was contacted by a friend and former client who had recently assumed the role of CEO at Sanita USA. We’d worked together before on another European shoe brand — 50 cents if you can guess which one — and after a brief discussion of the situation, he and I came to the conclusion that Sanita needed an entire brand overhaul. He subsequently engaged our services and off we went.

For me — a shoe lover, but never a clog-wearer — the biggest challenge of the whole endeavor was to grok what this clog thing is all about. My wife has been a fan for years, but something has kept me away. They look great on women. On men, I’m not so sure. Maybe on a chef or a surgeon. Maybe. But being neither, I was not interested. Still, when it comes to shoes, as you know, my curiosity is sure to get the better of me — especially if there is a discount involved. So, in an effort to better understand the brand, I agreed to try them out. I sorted through the styles and finally settled on the manliest pair I could find — the Leo steel-toe.

So?

I find them quite comfortable, especially for standing — which I guess explains the chef and surgeon thing. I’m not too keen on long walks in them yet, but who knows, maybe after they break in a bit more. The biggest challenge is that the height of the sole makes them dangerous for the clog neophyte. I have literally fallen off the heels several times, and I feel it’s only dumb luck that has kept me from badly spraining my ankle. However, I’m confident this is a temporary risk, suffered by only the greenest clog rookies, and will soon be overcome. The positive side of standing atop a 2” heel is that for a guy who stands 5’11” on a good day, even on a bad day I’m over 6 feet tall with these puppies on. Pretty cool. The other obvious benefit is that they are quite impervious to almost all forms of animal droppings — at least ones we are likely to encounter in our daily travels in the good old US of A. Having seen wild elephant poop in Africa, I’m not sure they’d survive that encounter unscathed. But that’s a story for another time. Anyway, all things being equal, I’m quite enjoying this new shoe adventure.

Weirdly, I haven’t seen a lot of clogs on Danes since I’ve been here. Maybe it’s like Corona in Mexico — only for the turistas. Either way, I’m feeling good – about my feet and about being in Denmark, a beautiful and unique place, where the people are as friendly as can be and they all speak perfect English. (Details from our Danish adventures will appear in the next post of Tripping on this very website.)

And now the sales pitch: if you think you might be interested in your own pair of Sanita clogs, why not help a friend and his agency out by visiting your local clog retailer? Or after February 12th, stop by sanitaclogs.com for a browse.

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For those beset by an unusual obsession, there is often a physical place in the world that brings that obsession to life in a vivid, almost erotic way. Whether it’s a walk in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater, a visit to Cooperstown, or even a road trip to Mt. Rushmore, there are places in the world that obsessive people dream of visiting one day.

For those who love shoes, there is single block in New York City that is precisely that — the Mecca of shoes — West 8th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Some know it as the heart of shoe Mecca, others simply as West 8th. Whatever you call it, it’s unbelievable: a single block that somehow supports upwards of 20 shoe stores, all jammed with footwear and other leather goods and outnumbering the head-shops that are the other main industry of this block 3-to-1. (But don’t worry — there are still plenty of head shops.)

I was lucky enough to pay West 8th a visit on a recent trip. With a business colleague and friend from Europe in tow, I walked the Village, had lunch at the Mt. Everest of pizza joints — John’s on Bleecker Street — and then took my sweet time shopping W8th. As we walked the block from west to east and scanned the crowded window displays, the sheer number of shoe stores threatened to become overwhelming. To the untrained eye, many look like they are carrying the same shoes. And while some are indeed the same, the trained (obsessive) eye knows that many of those “same” shoes actually reflect subtly different lines and styles. So the first challenge for the discerning shopper is to find just the right store — one that offers the styles and the prices to meet your needs. I was looking to continue down the pointy path and was hoping for something in the $100/pair range. My European friend was looking for something in an American shit-kicker.

We eventually settled on a store called Mind Boggler (a shoe store that, judging by its name, should have been a head shop, or once was). We’d browsed several others, but were still unsure we’d be able to find what we were looking for. But there in the back, past the racks of leather jackets, was an extensive inner sanctum of shoes. Jackpot!

We spent 45 glorious minutes auditioning styles. I ended up with not one, but two pair. The first, Steve Madden, side-zip, black, square-toe pointy boots with clean lines and a low heel. The other pair shared the silhouette with the Maddens, but had double goring on top of the arch and a subtle wing tip pattern on the toe. This pair is a deep and beautiful brown and apparently a private label brand “hand-made just for us in Italy,” the salesman told me.

I’m sure.

Regardless, they are beautiful. My European friend found her perfect American shit-kickers in a pair of Georgia Boot brown-suede cowboy boots, with harness straps and ring. They are awesome.

After getting our fill, we strolled the rest of the block feeling like you might if you strolled through San Francisco’s Ferry Building after eating lunch at Boulevard — completely satisfied but still surrounded by mouth-watering and delicious foods. It was positively decadent.

So, if you’re ever in Manhattan and have a hankering to feel up some footwear, head directly to W8th Street, walk from Sixth to Fifth Avenue and revel in the Mecca of shoes.

If you can’t wait, click here.

Burke in pointy shoes

The first I knew of pointy shoes was when I saw cowboy boots at a rodeo in San Antonio when I was three years old. I was as obsessed as a three-year-old can be — I spent four whole minutes wishing I had a pair. But it wasn’t until high school that my wish came true, and I finally got a set of pointy, brown suede cowboy boots. They were mostly uncomfortable, but they looked bad-ass. In my head, I was The Man with No Name hunting down Angel Eyes.

Fast forward like 400 years to the early ‘00’s. I was on vacation in the south of France (la-de-da!), and, while strolling between postcard stands and dodging ridiculously small vehicles, I noticed that the Euro dudes were all sporting pointy shoes. Once again, I was struck.

“Those look bad-ass!”

But having no idea if the pointy thing was going to cross the pond, I decided it was safer to stick to my chunky, American, round-toe boots.

Of course, soon enough, the point did catch on here. Now my problem became that I was unable to find a pair I liked. And so began a search that would last for years.

Well, I’m happy to report that my Goldielocksian quest for a pair that is “just right” has now come to a happy end. But prior to finding the winning points, I had to order literally $1,000 worth of shoes from Zappos.com. I tried everything from square-toed, yet ever-so-slightly pointy, shoes from Kenneth Cole to crazy cowboy boot imitations that I couldn’t even walk in. Nothing worked – they all looked like I was wearing some weird costume.

But the other day, on a lunch excursion to none other than Shoe Pavilion, I discovered, completely by accident, this great pair of shoes (I know, not boots) from Jump. What made things even better was that they were only $30. That’s right, $30. I even checked them on Zappos, where they were listed for $110. That sealed it. What did I have to lose?

The shoes are sort of elongated wingtips with a two-tone, brown-black fade, making them look almost dusty. And while the point is absolutely there, it’s subtle enough that it feels just right. I gotta say, I don’t think they’ll last very long. But for $30, who cares?

In the meantime, I’m back to being The Man with No Name. Now all I need is a poncho and a ceegar. Giddy-up!

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