Two and a half years ago, just before flying to England, I walked to a department store near my home in Salt Lake City and bought the most expensive shoes I’ve ever owned. The shoes were made from a soft and very comfortable leather and I ended up wearing them a lot. In fact they’ve been my default shoes ever since, and they’ve consequently taken a beating.
During the trip to England soon after I bought them, I spent two weeks mucking around in the rain and the mud. They held up well, even as I found myself walking through small streams. In the picture below they’re only about two weeks old.
I brought these shoes with me to Europe several more times. In late 2014, I was wearing them when Laura began slipping into a Venetian canal. When I lunged onto the slick stone steps to help, I too began slipping. I didn’t get as far into the water as Laura, but one of these shoes did get dunked in the green water.
Not long after the trip to Venice, one of these shoes was hit with a Molotov cocktail while I was reporting on unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. The moment is captured in the video below.
I wasn’t hurt in the Molotov cocktail incident, which is probably thanks to the fact that I was wearing these durable, leather shoes.
These shoes have also been with me on numerous other smaller trips. I’ve taken them to Oregon, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New York, Missouri, and probably a few other states that I’m forgetting. They have been splashed with the water from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They have been encrusted with salt from the Bonneville Salt Flats.
In just a few days, I’ll be in Europe again, this time for work. As I was planning the trip, I realized I needed to do something about my shoes. As a sidewalk shoe shiner said to me recently in Chicago, “you’re looking neat, but you’re shoes are looking beat.” I didn’t take him up on his offer to shine my shoes, but he was right.
Over Thanksgiving, I returned to the store where I bought the shoes. They still carried the same model, which gave me a chance to do this sad comparison:
After seeing what these shoes once looked like, I decided I couldn’t wear them like that to Europe on my upcoming trip, which required me to look at least semi-professional. And so, while at the Salt Lake Airport, I decided to have them polished.
After arriving at the airport I approached the first shoe shine booth I saw. The guy working there looked down at my feet, then told me the shoes were too far gone. “Those shoes can’t be polished,” he said.
So I tried again at a different booth. This time, the shoe shine guy agreed to give it a shot. He rubbed a foamy white leather treatment in with his bare hands, then did it again when the shoes quickly soaked it in. Next he slathered several different layers of cream and polish on the leather. He replaced the laces, which had broken several times and were tied together in knots.
And finally, after about 20 minutes, he finished:
These shoes don’t look new, but I think they look better. And in any case, it’s surprising how something utilitarian like shoes can end up capturing the essence of a chapter in life. These shoes have been with me when I have visited more places than at any other time, and during my most memorable adventures. I wore them as I changed jobs, moved to a new city, and grew into a new lifestyle.
I never really thought much about my shoes over the years, but there they always were.
— Jim Dalrymple II