Understanding The Shoes of North Oakland

By Susan Parker
Tuesday June 06, 2006

Three quarters of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world would finish if people were to put on the shoes of their adversaries and understood their point of view. 

-Mahatma Gandhi 


Standing on the platform at the MacArthur BART station, I saw two teenage boys waiting for the train. They were dressed in baggy shirts and pants, caps on sideways, belts slung low on their hips. There was nothing unusual about their attire except for their shoes. They wore a different brand and style of sneaker on each foot. One of them sported a black shoe on his leftfoot, and a white shoe on his right. The other kid was similarly shod with sneakers that didn’t match. 

Over the weekend my 16-year-old friend Jernae stopped by for a visit. Her feet were encased in things that resembled mini bumper cars: enormous, shiny red plastic-looking sneakers, the kind Shaq and Allen Iverson wear. 

“What’s with the sneaks?” I asked as she kicked them off and sprawled on my couch. 

“Boys’ shoes,” she said, throwing her hands behind her head, and crossing her legs. “All the girls wear ‘em.” 

Just then my housemate Andrea came downstairs. “Nice shoes,” she said to Jernae. “Look at me, I can’t even find two that match.” 

She pulled up her pajama bottoms to reveal a sparkly yellow rubber flip flop on one foot, and an orange plastic thong adorned with a fuzzy flower on the other. 

“You’re right in style,” I said. “Saw something similar at the BART station just the other day.” 

“Shoes are my passion,” she said, “you know that. But my feet are all swelled up and I’m about to get a bucket and soak these puppies.” 

“My feet hurt, too,” said Jernae. “Can someone bring me a soda and some chips?” 

The next day I met my friend Sue for lunch. “I’ve got the most comfortable shoes!” she exclaimed. “Aren’t these cute?” 

She pointed down at her feet. She was wearing wide, dull green clogs that looked like a miniature version of apparatus you might find on a children’s playground. I’d seen these shoes before, in gardening magazines and once on a friend, who wore them to a Halloween party. She was dressed as the Easter Bunny and she sported the same holey plastic clogs that Sue had on, only hers were hot pink. 

“Crocs,” said Sue after I failed to acknowledge how cute her feet looked. “Thirty dollars. You can wear them in the rain, and they come in every color imaginable.” 

“Great,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. “But you gotta admit, they’re damn ugly.” 

“I don’t think they’re ugly at all,” said Sue. “They’re incredibly comfortable. Here, try them on.” 

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m saving my feet for something more attractive, perhaps in two different colors, or Shaq-like. 

“You should keep an open mind,” said Sue. “These shoes could change your life.” 

Yesterday I took my dog for her usual walk to Genova’s Delicatessen. On the way we often pass by Vincent, an elderly man who sits most mornings at the bus stop by the post office on Shattuck, smoking bummed cigarettes, and reading old newspapers. Vincent always says hello, pets Whiskers, and gives us his daily blessings. This time I noticed Vincent wasn’t wearing his worn-out, hand-me-down sandals. He was shod in a pair of scuffed, but fashionable Crocs! 

“You’ve got new shoes!” I shouted. 

“Yeah boy, you know about these things? Most comfortable shoes ever. Got ‘emfrom somebody who was ‘bout to toss ‘em. Threw away my sandals and made these my summertime shoes. May even wear them into fall and next winter, that’s how much I like ‘em.” 

“You know, Vincent, I thought they were women’s shoes.” 

“Hell, no,” said Vincent. “They’re universal! Girls wear ‘em, boys wear ‘em, and old folks too. You oughta get yourself a pair. They’ll change your life.” 

“I’ve heard that before,” I said. 

“Well then,” he said. “You oughta listen.”