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John's World: Walk a Mile in My Shoes. Better Yet, 10.

08:41AM Nov 08, 2014
John Phipps

It’s that time again. My stained, worn and totally comfortable work shoes that have borne my shins on their soles (not bad for a Methodist, huh?) are past due for an end-of-life discussion. 

Their dilapidated appearance is somewhat deceiving. They looked that way after about a week. But when you step on a dime and know it, the time has come to do the right thing. Or when your progressively bowed legs have worn the outer corner of the heels to a 45° angle, which perversely increases your skeletal deforming, one needs to move on—to new footwear.

There is good news for this melancholy parting. Shopping for shoes online is now a snap. No more hopping around in farm store aisles, trying on boots while hiding the disgusting condition of your socks. You can even avoid the “nuclear option” of going to an actual shoe store where a child-clerk will somehow end up selling you add-on arch supports for $30. 

Thanks to sites such as, you never need to leave the comfort of your La-Z-Boy or pickup cab. (Warning: Do not shop and drive.) My daughter-in-law turned me on to this website a few years ago. She explained she orders whatever looks appealing and simply returns the losers, thanks to free shipping.

I avoid returning defective or unneeded purchases. It feels like you’re admitting a mistake or worse, having to get the other guy to admit that. My solution was to get Jan to do it. While craven, all the other guys were doing it. (A common excuse from fourth-graders, so it should work for farmers.)

Anywho, I gave it a try. From the safety of my keyboard, I shopped for boots. Actually, I took the model number from my old pair and simply searched for a replacement. Not only did I not have to drive to a shoe store, I probably saved several bucks, pounds and hassle by not adding activities to the trip, such as lunch or a long-avoided medical exam.

While the acquisition of new footwear has advanced into the 21st century, what comes next remains a rite of passage unchanged from the days of sandals: the dreaded break-in struggle.

Shoes are a lifestyle-signaling device. This was best expressed by Waylon Jennings in “Okie From Muskogee,” which defined “manly footwear.” 

So the sturdy, protective footwear I need for all my chores, as well as add to my machismo, barely bend out of the box. While I know after a couple of weeks they’ll feel OK, those two weeks are the reason my old boots have been pushed well beyond their expiration date.

For some reason, the work shoe styles I like and my actual feet are mismatched. Inevitably, I get painful raw patches right under those sticky-out bones on the outside of my ankle. I don’t notice it so much when trying on the boots, of course, but day two is a beast. I’ve found modest relief by stuffing tissue or bits of foam over the area, but in the end, you just have to suffer for eventual comfort. There is probably a sermon on this experience, but odds are I’d sleep through it.

I suspect this might be the underlying reason some farmers brazenly wear what are optimistically called running shoes for work. But even overpriced sneakers carry blister risk, I’ve discovered. The grouchiness triggered by this discomfort is why they call them “cross trainers,” after all. No, I don’t make up this stuff.

I’ve pondered why some savvy Chinese entrepreneur hasn’t assembled an iron-skinned Sherpa or such to pre-break-in work boots. For a fee, of course. But I guess most buyers wouldn’t get past the “bowling-shoe heebie-jeebies” from following a little too closely where others have walked.

So, I face another 12 days of walking on the outer edges of my feet like a bow-legged cowboy. The distress is undoubtedly making me a better man, but I’m pretty sure it’s not noticeable.