Barefoot in the Dark

 

It was after dinner, just before dark. Our not-too-svelte Golden Lab, Brady, and I were about to embark on our little 45-minute postprandial jaunt through the neighborhood. We’re both trying to get our girlish figures back and evening strolls are both pleasurable and functional.

Nothing exceptional about this … except I decided to leave all footware at home.

According to Christopher McDougall in Born to Run, his seminal work on the mysterious Tarahumara Indians and their maniacal running habits, the better (read: more expensive) a running shoe is made, the worse it is for your feet.

He quotes Di Vinci on feet, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art”

As if to prove the point, college runners have taken to running barefoot and even forced Nike to develop a “non-shoe” shoe—which looks like a pair of gloves on one’s feet.

So, wanting to be hip, I’ve taken to going on these walks barefoot.

Now, walking around a small town like St. Helena, California, is one of life’s great joys. The fresh spring air is invigorating and the beauty of twilight settling in over the western hills unparalleled. You run into neighbors who wave and want to have a friendly chat. Keeping moving is the difficult part.

One new friend pulled up in a car and said, “I can’t believe you’re barefoot. Only in St. Helena.”

It got me to thinking how right he was. I lived 11 years in New York. One didn’t see many people walking barefoot there. In fact, there are not many towns anymore where one can feel comfortable going barefoot—especially after dark.

It shows how much people care about their town. I had my plastic bag on the leash, and it’s evident from the lack of dog scat on the street that other dog walkers pick up after their pets as well.

That demonstrates an element of pride and responsibility one doesn’t see in larger cities. There’s very little broken glass or other detritus on the streets. Folks here don’t foul their nests they way they do in New York.

Our town isn’t clean because we have a huge sanitation department. People don’t rely on the government—they pick up after themselves, and apparently after others.

Small towns are like that. Though not often articulated, it’s one of the reasons why people leave the big cities and move to smaller hamlets.

One can flick a cigarette butt on the sidewalk in New York. It just doesn’t work here. The social contract in a small town is decidedly different than the unspoken social contracts in larger cities.

If a cabbie cuts you off on Lexington Avenue, you can flip him off. You’ll never see him again. Do it here and the driver is apt to be your kid’s little league coach.

The free market operates differently here as well. If the plumber or electrician botches a job, you can’t yell and scream at him —because he may not come back to the ranch late some night during a storm when you really need him.

So a form of civility crops up, born of necessity and survival. You can be anonymous in a city. Bad behavior might go unpunished or unnoticed.

In a small town, however, park your pick-up in the widow Douglas’s driveway overnight and you’re likely to be the topic of discussion over coffee at Jackie’s Exxon station the next day.

I’ve often told the tale of my father (just out of the city) writing a nasty letter to our local vet over an incident with a horse — and then finding out the man was in charge of membership to the only square dancing group in town, which my mother had to be in.

That the vet didn’t hold a grudge and showed great kindness by not “bonging” the city slicker was a great lesson in neighborliness to us all.

Rudeness and bullying have consequences in a small town.

That’s why it is so important for folks to “be judgmental,” despite the current pop psychology that rails against the practice. 

Sure, it’s heroic to talk about “being your own person” and not caving in to the opinion of others. Those are marks of high character.

Yet, throughout history, societies have functioned best when they are self-policing. If the community doesn’t set the standards of behavior—and enforce them via acceptance or ostracism — then outsiders (read: government regulators, police, or an occupying army) will enforce the rules.

Small town gossip can be cruel, unforgiving, and intolerant. But it beats fascist or totalitarian rule by a country mile.

Much better to police your behavior for fear of a bad rap in town than to have a police force or government regulators dictate personal conduct.

I’ve got the callouses on the bottom of my feet to prove it.

 

There are 12 comments.

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  1. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    This is one of the reasons I moved from Palm Beach County, FL to Edgewood, NM. My next door neighbor is 300 yards away instead of 100 inches away.  Although, you don’t dare walk around here without shoes.  Everything out here has thorns.  Even the thorns have thorns.  I had to replace the front tires on my lawn tractor because of thorns.

    • #1
  2. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    I live in a small town of about 1500 people, and the local cops/hwy patrol had my phone number on speed dial whenever my teenage grandson was out with my car. I knew exactly what that kid was up to. Fortunately, he has grown up and I don’t get these calls anymore.

    I spent a couple of summers in St. Helena Jeff, watch out for the thistles.

    • #2
  3. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    “Folks here don’t foul their nests they way they do in New York.”

    Here’s a post on my blog about a friend of mine who runs barefoot in New York City.  He’s done over 9,000 miles so far.

    Barefoot Running In NYC and The State Of Barefoot Shoes

    NYC streets are far cleaner than you’d think.  I’ve run barefoot there myself several times.  And you won’t die if you step on horse poop. ;)

    • #3
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Love this, J.!  All the best things in life are even better barefoot, aren’t they?  Pet Brady for me, please/thank you.

    • #4
  5. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    The possibility of stepping on one of these is enough to make me keep my feet covered. On the other hand, my husband can replace the kids’ bike inner tubes in no time flat due to all the practice he’s gotten from their riding over these terrible weeds.

    • #5
  6. user_199279 Coolidge
    user_199279
    @ChrisCampion

    I urge all tough-guy barefoot runners to come to my thrice-weekly runs here in Vermont, in November, December, January, February, and March.  We’ve still got snow on the ground, ice on the sidewalks, big pools of snowmelt.

    Enjoy.  I’ll still be sporting my New Balance 1080 v3’s.

    • #6
  7. jeffearlwarren@gmail.com Contributor
    jeffearlwarren@gmail.com
    @JeffreyEarlWarren

    Tuck:
    “Folks here don’t foul their nests they way they do in New York.”Here’s a post on my blog about a friend of mine who runs barefoot in New York City.

    He’s done over 9,000 miles so far.“Barefoot Running In NYC and The State Of Barefoot Shoes    ”NYC streets are far cleaner than you’d think. I’ve run barefoot there myself several times. And you won’t die if you step on horse poop. “

    You won’t die if you step in horse poop–that is true.  And when I lived in New York it was the 70’s and dog poop was everywhere.  The City is much cleaner today.  That being said, the point of the piece was personal responsibility, as opposed to relying on government to “police” things.

    • #7
  8. Kelly B Member
    Kelly B
    @KellyB

    Kim K.:The possibility of stepping on one of these is enough to make me keep my feet covered. On the other hand, my husband can replace the kids’ bike inner tubes in no time flat due to all the practice he’s gotten from their riding over these terrible weeds.

    Yeah – I have a gravel driveway full of those nasty things; and they latch onto shoe bottoms and come in the house, and they can poke your foot through the thick part of a Crock. Gotta get out the Round-Up this weekend.

    Completely on board the barefoot thing, sort of – I’m on my third pair of Vibrams. Best shoes ever – and they’re machine washable, if your neighbors aren’t quite so good about the dog poop thing.

    • #8
  9. Kelly B Member
    Kelly B
    @KellyB

    Croc, not Crock. New Ricochet doesn’t have Auto-Correct, does it?

    • #9
  10. Grendel Member
    Grendel
    @Grendel

    Sounds like small-town civility is promoted by lack of a competitive marketplace.

    Just sayin’.

    • #10
  11. TheRoyalFamily Member
    TheRoyalFamily
    @TheRoyalFamily

    Kim K.:
    The possibility of stepping on one of these is enough to make me keep my feet covered. On the other hand, my husband can replace the kids’ bike inner tubes in no time flat due to all the practice he’s gotten from their riding over these terrible weeds.

     I am not too fond of those myself. Especially when I step on them inside my house, when they’ve been brought in by my shoes. Though, thanks to wearing shoes outside at all times since I was little, my feet are quite tender and sensitive, so I avoid getting them actually into my feet.

    As for the bikes, you might want to think about slime tires. Generally twice as expensive as regular tubes, but worth it in time and effort (when they go flat, just put more air in before going on another ride.

    • #11
  12. jeffearlwarren@gmail.com Contributor
    jeffearlwarren@gmail.com
    @JeffreyEarlWarren

    Grendel:

    Sounds like small-town civility is promoted by lack of a competitive marketplace.

    Just sayin’.

     No one wants to admit this but there is some real truth in this.  Competitiveness does breed incivility

    • #12

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