24 hours left in Prague and two things have made me tear up: saying goodbye to some of my friends, and putting these shoes in the garbage.

This isn’t a normal blog post and might not be interesting at all, it’s just something I want to write. I did say “Wanderlust, Adventures, and Stories” on the main page (but I might have changed it to just Wanderlust and Adventures) because I’m not strictly a ‘travel writer’. But there’s travel involved in this story. Anyways.

A Shoe Story

It was 9pm in Otsu, a suburb of Kyoto, Japan. Like fall leaves turning I knew it was time for change; the next morning we would be leaving the hotel that had been our home base for two weeks and going to spend a night at a Buddhist monastery on Mt. Koya. There wasn’t anything special about Otsu but it had been our home, where we laid our heads, where we had classes and watched depressing anime to prepare ourselves for our Hiroshima visit. It was where we experimented with Japanese foods in the grocery store- “Do you think this one has chicken? That looks like chicken. Or it could be pork.” “Actually I’ll just get onigiri instead. I know the one in the orange wrapper is chicken.”Our last night we had spent some time down at the dock, watching the water and talking about our journey thus far, and then, for lack of anything better to do, we went to a mall.

A few stores were still open and that’s where I found them. “Hey, these fake Converse look pretty good and I’m kind of tired of these shoes I’ve worn the whole trip.” “How much are they?” “Um, 500 yen. What’s that? $6?” “Yeah. You should buy them, if you have room in your bag.”

I had room, and they fit okay, so I bought them without much thought and stuck them in my backpack.

The next two days, on Koya-san, it was raining, foggy, muddy, and miserable. We hiked around an ancient Buddhist mausoleum, our overstuffed backpacks on, and the canvas slip-ons that I’d worn for the whole trip transformed from a neutral light olive to a nasty brown/gray/green. Oh, and they smelled like mud. And wet feet. “Good thing I bought those fake Converse!” The slip-ons went into a grocery bag and into the trash at the next train station. No problem, I wasn’t really attached to them, and I had a brand new pair of shoes ready to go.

The fake Converse from the random department store in Otsu got me from Tokyo to Nashville, and then to Chicago. They took me from home to school for three semesters and then back to working at a summer camp in Illinois. They went to church, to semi-formal occasions (black converse under black slacks, sort of executive punk) and were a reliable back-up for when I was wearing less comfortable footwear. They went to rave after rave, dancing nights away, and walking to school sore and tired the next day. They went to Pride parade and The Bean and to birthday parties and family dinners. For over a year in Nashville and Chicago they were my go-to shoes.

Oh, and then, soles wearing thin, they walked me right onto an airplane for my semester abroad, making them three-continent shoes. They went to Prague, Krakow, Pilsen, Dresden, Budapest, Istanbul, Paris, and Venice. They saw Warped Tour, Bassnectar, Zed’s Dead, Above & Beyond, S3rl… if these shoes had ears they’d know genres from house to hardcore to heavy metal, but instead of hearing the beats they took my abuse as I danced, moshed, ran, and jumped.

Somewhere along the way the sides split, back by the heels, and the soles, especially on the balls of my feet where I dance, wore thinner and thinner. Now there’s a centimeter-wide hole in the sole of each, a lesson that I learned when I wore them to school in the rain last week, and had soaked socks for the rest of the night.

Just like their predecessors, these shoes are going in the trash on my way out of the country.

And I’m upset about it.

I know I’m being silly. I know they’re ‘just shoes,’ and cheap shoes at that. I don’t have any use for shoes full of holes, and I have too many possessions as it is. Dragging them all the way to America doesn’t make any sense, logically. But I can’t help thinking of the good times I’ve had with them. If people are allowed to be emotionally attached to their car, motorcycle, or bike, surely I can feel bad for abandoning one of my main forms of transportation for the past year and a half.

I have other shoes at home. Real Converse, other fake Converse, and I’m sure I can get similar at WalMart for $10 or less. But it’s not their fabric that makes them special, not the rubber or the insoles or the laces. In this case, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts, and what the whole symbolizes is so much more than a pair of shoes. I’m rather proud that I danced holes in them. I’m even more proud that they’ve been 2/3 of the way around the world: Japan to America to Eastern Europe.

Travel takes a lot out of you. You might end up worn thin, tired, ragged at the seams and full of holes. You might lose things along the way: shoes, boyfriends, your rose-tinted glasses, fantasies, ideas for the future. You might come back a different person. But your passport will have more stamps, your eyes will have seen more sights, and your brain will know more stories.

Thanks for the good times, fake Converse. As the years wear on I might forget you, but I’ll never forget the journeys we took together.


5 thoughts on “A Shoe Story

  1. Dorothy, I loved this story. It was a wonderful tribute to your companions and to the wonders of travel. I look forward to seeing you soon, and hearing about what adventures are in store for you next.

  2. Bonding with served-you-well shoes, and finding it significant, as far as I’m concerned, is a mark of character–consistent with the spirit of Japan, from which they came. You may be interested to know that over twenty years ago, The Dali Lama was given a pair of shoes made in Maine as a gift from the founder of the Dexter Shoe Company. Recently the Dali Lama returned the shoes to that family, also this time as a gift, with his thanks, saying that these shoes had carried him everywhere on a daily basis for the past twenty-some years. xoxox L.

  3. Joanne Andrews
    Hi Dorothy,
    Your mom sent me a hard copy of this blog from Europe. I absolutely love reading about your adventures. Of course I love
    all of the pictures, including the pictures of yourself, you look Wonderful.
    I don’t have a computer at home, but today from work I decided to google
    Wanderlust and Adventures by Dorothy Ann and here you are…
    I will continue to watch for more.
    I am just so proud to have know you during your youth, and what an
    amazing adult you have turned into.

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