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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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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…?

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