Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Happy Feet



Long ago and far away, I realized that my footwear of choice -- when I had to wear some -- was going to be sneakers. Back in the day, my mode of dress was: T-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers. In the hot part of the summer, it was T-shirt, shorts, sneakers.

I have had no reason to change those preferences since I developed them.

This was long before running shoes. There were Keds, and there were Converse, and then there were ... well, that was pretty much it.

Of course, sneakers evolved. I got my first pair of running shoes about 1975. They were racing flats, and I didn't know the difference between those and training shoes -- they were what was available at the local sporting goods store. I ran in them until the soles wore down, then I Shoe-Goo'ed 'em, and wore them some more. Kept them for probably fifteen years, knocking about in the closet, as my dirt-digging shoes, long after I quit running.

This was in the days when the Runner's World Magazine's shoe issue was one page long.

The gumshoes have evolved a lot more since, but the basic sneaker design is still pretty much a rubbery, cushion-soled thing that allows you to move about without slipping as much as you do in brogans or boots. For a time, I had jazz shoes, for kung-fu class, but you couldn't walk anywhere in them, they were no more than paper-thin leather uppers and soles, with a minimal rubber heel. I won a kata trophy wearing those once, and was the only guy on the floor wearing shoes at all ...

Now, there are specialized sneakers -- every sport you can think of, from walking, running, basketball, skateboarding, bicycling, tennis, weightlifting, mountain climbing, martial arts, to, well, you name it. If it's a sport you ever heard of that uses shoes, there are dedicated hoof-covers for it.

Generally, the more esoteric the activity, the more expensive the basic shoes. For the super-star jock signature models, we're talking a lot more, of course.

I've tried a bunch of them, looking for foot comfort. Being slightly north of two hundred pounds, I am hard on my shoes. Cross-trainers seem to be the best for me. They have more lateral support than running or walking shoes, heavier uppers, and enough padding so I can walk the dogs for a mile or two, do my martial arts dances, and like that.

However, no matter how expensive they are, my everyday shoes don't last very long. On the average, three-four months. At the end of that time, they are either coming apart at the seams, the soles are worn off, or they are beaten down inside, so the cushioning is dead. Entropy eats them.

So, a pair of nice Nike Air Whatevers that run sixty bucks on sale are good for three or four months. Top of the line basketball ego-boosters bearing the name of some guy who can play above the rim that that cost twice as much (even on sale)? Why, they last twelve to sixteen weeks ...

They are all made in China or Indonesia or somewhere, and the workmanship is generally pretty good, but that extra money you spend isn't for durability, it's for the look. You aren't paying for the difference between a Mercedes and a Kia, but between a stock Earl Scheib paint-job, and one by Don "Big Daddy" Gartlis. The frame and motor are the same.

For me, comfort and function are paramount, but wear and price figure in.

Lately, I have found a way to maintain happy feet at a reasonable cost:

I go to Costco, and buy their generic Court Classic. I dunno who makes them, but like the house brand shotguns used to be at Sears (J.C. Higgins), it is doubtless a major maker who does them sub rosa.

These are your basic white tennis shoe, and currently run $14.99 a pair.

Then I go the sporting goods store and buy a set of high quality insoles. These usually go about $15 to $18 a set, more than the shoes themselves, but they instantly convert the made-by-the-same-folks cheapies into shoes that feel as good and last as long as the high-end makers. So for thirty bucks or so, I can pretty much match footgear easily costing twice or thrice as much.

The only drawback, far as I can tell, is that, if you travel a lot by commercial airline, you aren't supposed to wear shoes with gel inserts, according to the TSA. If they spot 'em, they'll make you toss the insoles.

8 comments:

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Now, I can actually see hijacking a plane with a pair of insoles... well-used ones. Talk about your chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Edwin said...

Steve, buy three pair of shoes, and wear them in rotation. They last about five times as long as a single pair worn every day. It's even better if you get three pair of cedar shoe trees and put them in the shoes. Helps the shoes, especially when they get wet. These tips come to you courtesy of my great grandfather who was a shoemaker.

Steve Perry said...

I used to do that, buy two pairs and rotate them. But I didn't notice that they lasted that much longer. Yeah, it would be six or eight months before I had to re-stock, but since each pair was getting worn half as much ...

Michael B. said...

I also am an advocate of the sneaker....after years of trying New Balance, cross Trainers etc. I have come to the conclusion that the old Chuck Taylor's and PF Flyer's are still best suited for me. My feet never hurt in these bad boys. I where them for everyday ventures, training, power walking etc.... not to expensive and dang sure spiffy!...Old School...

Ximena said...

So, Steve, what you're saying here is that you *don't*, in fact, have shoes older than I am?

I do a similar trick with my dancing shoes (that's "tango", not "fights")--I buy cute shoes on sale from the mall and put insoles in them to make them more comfy, do things to the bottoms of the soles if necessary, like that. (they make insoles for girly-girl shoes now, called "FootPetals", that give you cushioning and slideproofing without showing). Since you're wearing them *maybe* an hour at a time once or twice a week, you get the same good wear as you'd get out of a $300 pair of highly engineered ballroom shoes (the ones with the springy shank and the split soles and blah blah). Unless you're in them 8 hours a day (which some people are, I'll admit, teachers and pros and so forth) you don't need all that STUFF.

In fact, real pros change their shoes a lot--my teacher told me if I was going to be on the floor longer than an hour or so to make sure I had an extra pair of shoes with different heel heights. Why? They put pressure on different parts of your feet. That includes the toes, straps, sides, and all that. I sometimes will go from a lower heel to a higher one for comfort.

The practical upshot is that people who buy their tango shoes in Argentina will sometimes compliment me on my beautiful shoes, whereupon I say, " Oh, thanks, bought 'em at the mall, twofer sale, $15" and their jaw has to be retrieved from the floor and shoe-gooed back on.

In any case, Steve, I actually DO have shoes older than me. They were made in Italy when you were still a dope-smoking teeny-bopper, before I was a gleam in my mother's eye. And they're taller than you.

Steve Perry said...

The old racing flats might be out in the garage in a box, I haven't looked lately; however, I do have other pairs of shoes in the closet that I seldom wear, and some of them are aged.

I got karate gi tops, and old blue jeans that go back to the dark ages, and my Om T-shirt is at least thirty-five years old. Too threadbare to wear, but still in the drawer ...

Steve Perry said...

Always loved to listen to and watch the tango. Being a white guy, I got no rhythm, so I can't dance, but my favorite song at the age of five was Leroy Anderson's Blue Tango -- #1 on the Hit Parade that year, 1952 ...

Great dance. About as nasty as you can legally get standing up in a public place ...

Ximena said...

Well, that was true until the Lambada craze of the late 1980's. Tango has more subtlety, though, and therefore more, well, legs.

Steve, I think you would be a good tango dancer, because Argentine tango is not about learning steps and doing tricks, it's about getting connected with your partner. If you can walk, you have the basic skill set necessary to learn Argentine tango.

At our wedding we'll have an instructor give a basic tango-from-zero lesson for folks to be able to dance at our wedding. So you'll get your chance.