Reused-A-Shoe

Despite how humbly I live, I still have a lot of stuff I don’t need. (Like cable TV, but that’s a different story.) The small tokens of life — letters, cards, fortune cookie fortunes — litter my room, needlessly taking up space. Things I should get rid of — like old Far Side calendars, copies of my stories and essays filled with workshop comments, and clothes that are too big for me — populate the corners of my closet and the space beneath my bed.

Am I a pack rat? Not necessarily, though you could call me that. My mom is a pack rat, and she has a storage unit, a basement, a few closets, a home office, and the room she shares with my dad to prove it. Her excessive collection is the main reason we looked for a bigger house for 16 years. My mom doesn’t get rid of anything. I do, and it’s something I did this weekend. I purged my room of a lot of things I don’t use or need.

Old birthday and holiday cards, maps, my old Far Side calendars, brochures I saved from visiting the Queen Mary and Soviet submarine a year ago — none but a few exceptions survived. There was really no reason to keep them, so out they went. I even threw away (in hopes Rainbow will pick it out and recycle it) the old shoeboxes I used to store miscellaneous items.

Also, I got rid of three pairs of well-worn shoes, including my New Balance 718s, my first ever pair of running shoes.


Frankly, it was a hard and emotional decision to make. Yes, they’re just shoes: inanimate objects without any apparent feelings. There’s no practical reason for holding on to them. But I’ll let a quote from Run the Planet, a online resource for runners, explain how I felt:

Sure it is nice to go and buy a new pair of sneakers, wear them proudly in the store, walk a little in them to test their features, enjoy the new comfort for your feet, go back home with the brand new shoe box to open like a birthday gift. It is also true though that the sight of the good old pair in the shoe cabinet, and the idea to have to toss them away, is one of the most painful experiences for every runner. It is natural to go back with the memory to the roads shared together, the distances covered, the mud, the rain, the rocky paths, the melting asphalt. You think how faithfully your old pair of shoes have protected your feet, in how many occasions they have been your inseparable friends.

Running forges a special bond between man and shoe, a bond I continue to feel long after retiring a pair for good. Especially significant was the bond I had with my New Balance 718s.

They were the pair I first became serious with — my first, if you will. A special place in my heart will always be reserved for them. I bought them at the Foot Locker in the Coral Ridge Mall one night in mid-November 2005. The next morning I put them on, fresh and clean, and ran a simple loop around the neighborhood. They were there every step of the way, literally, through the winter, spring, and summer as I struggled to build endurance. Their soles were dyed red from pounding the red asphalt of the Bates Field track. I took them with me to California, where we ran (down) the mountain roads lined with redwoods near my cousin’s place. After a three or four month hiatus we began anew in SoCal, alternating runs and walks to slowly build stamina. My times and distances increased with my energy, and we ran for 30 minutes non-stop for the first time on January 14, 2008. The next weekend I bought a new pair of running shoes and slid my 718s under my bed, unsure what to do with them.

I developed a similar kinship with my Asics, the pair I used before buying my current Saucony’s in December. Our relationship, though, was not as special to me. It was more utilitarian than anything else, and I’m sure it will be the same way with all my future running shoes. My distances and times continued to grow, and we ran for 60 minutes non-stop for the first time on September 3, 2008. A few weeks later I took them to Iowa and reddened the soles at Bates Field a few times. That was the only time they would enjoy the Midwest. I left them in my room when I flew back for the holidays, and they sat untouched, looking forlorn, in the same place until this weekend.

My 718s and Asics became family, but I had no use for them anymore. Despite the emotional bond and good memories, they had to go. There was no reason to keep them. However, what do you do with running shoes once they’ve become worn out? As Run the Planet says, “[i]t would not be fair just to throw them in the trash bin.”

A while back, when I was doing research to replace my 718s, I stumbled on a few internet pages concerning athletic shoe recycling. One was a list on Run the Planet of programs dedicated to the reincarnation of old running shoes. Hopefully it’s an incomplete list; if not, there is certainly a dearth of recycling programs given the amount of athletic shoes in the world. To my surprise, one of the programs listed was run by Running Wild, an Eastern Iowa based running store (which I’ve never been to, shamefully). It wasn’t so much of a recycling program as it was a charity. Running Wild takes used running shoes and gives them to youth in need. Not what I was looking for. My former running shoes were worn beyond usability, and it would have been an insult to donate them. Take my word for it: too many people use places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army to unload their fashion refuse for consumer catharsis and a tax break. You’d be amazed by the amount of dirty and broken merchandise I “salvaged” or threw away when I sorted donations at Goodwill. Most of the programs listed by Run the Planet are donation centered, sending used running shoes to places like Africa and Haiti.

However, a few material recycling programs were included, like Reuse-A-Shoe, Nike’s shoe recycling initiative. Select Nike stores (only 150, which is kind of pathetic given Nike’s ubiquity, if you as me) feature Reuse-A-Shoe drop-boxes for worn athletic shoes. The collected shoes are sliced into three sections — “rubber outsole, foam midsole and fabric upper” — ground up, and used, depending on the section, as track or playground surfacing, cushioning for outdoor basketball and tennis courts, or cushioning for gym padding. Cool, huh? Fortunately for me, two of the 150 drop-boxes are located in Orange County. The time had come to visit one.

On Sunday I reached deep under my bed to pull out my 718s and another pair of shoes: brown New Balance 574s, which I bought at the Coral Ridge Foot Locker in late-2003. They were my winter shoes through the remainder of college, keeping my feet warm and dry on countless walks to and from downtown Iowa City. We explored Santa Cruz on lonely nights, walking Pacific Avenue and to the Togo’s Great Sandwich Shop on Ocean Street. I wore them until a couple years ago when I bought a pair of Gravis slip-on sneakers.

I lined up all six shoes on the floor — the 574s, the 718s, and Asics — like wounded soldiers standing at attention one last time before being discharged. I took a few pictures, then stuffed them into an Albertsons bag and drove to Fashion Island in Newport Beach, where he nearest Reuse-A-Shoe drop-box was located in a Nike Women’s store.

Only two pairs could fit in the bag, so I carried the 718s in my hand as I walked into the large outdoor mall, the untied laces dangling to the ground like they did when I took them to my starting points. I decided they were going into the box first to become the first shoes I ever recycle; a ceremonious gesture, I thought, for my first running shoes. It might sound corny and sympathetic — or maybe like I’m a little crazy — but I actually said goodbye to them before getting out of the car. I wished them luck in their next life in whatever form it may be.

As I walked to the store I thought how ironic it was to be recycling at a mall, to be taking old and used products back to the very same type of place I bought them at. Everyone else carried brightly colored bags filled with new clothes, electronics, and cosmetics. I even saw one woman holding a statue of a dog as she walked to the escalators. The trust-fund babies of Newport and Laguna were out in force, bedecked in neon hipster chic, wearing the same style sunglasses I remember being popular when I was in first grade. And there I was, with three beat-up pairs of shoes, two of them stuffed into a plastic grocery bag. Of course people looked, but I didn’t give a fuck.

At the store I found the box at the end of the long center aisle. I could see it was almost full, but there was enough room at the top for a few more pairs. I slipped in the 718s without even thinking about it, without any sense of nostalgia or sentiment. I was completely business-like and stoic about it, and slipped the Asics and 574s in the same way. At one point I heard someone thank me and say, “It’s almost full so try to jam them in there the best you can.” When the bag was empty I balled it up, stuffed it in my pocket, and walked out.

Gone. I drove home and found my room three pairs of shoes more efficient.

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