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A Valentine to: Chuck Taylors

They've taken me from California's Anza Borrego to Singing Beach in Massachusetts. They've been filled with sand from the Oregon Dunes and soaked with water from the St. Lawrence River. Dance halls and nightclubs, dive bars and posh hotel lounges, prestigious museums and shady performance spaces--they've carried me just about everywhere I've wanted to go.

That's pretty good for a couple of thin-soled canvas treads.

my Chucks

Forgive me for going, just for a moment, into the labyrinthine history of these shoes. (This is what I do, see?) They were adapted from the original All-Star design (by venerable shoe -ists Converse) by Chuck Taylor, a pro basketball player back when you had to have a second job to support your sports career.

The All-Star was one of the first sneakers designed specifically for playing sports. Presumably since Spalding had a 20-year edge on the basketball shoe market, Converse directed their efforts toward the soccer and netball crowd. But Chuck Taylor was one of those rebellious teen types--when he wasn't cutting a rug to ragtime music, or coaxing girls to second base in the back of his father's buggy, he was wearing All-Stars on the basketball court of Columbus High.

Chuck Taylor, 1921

In 1921, he showed up at the Chicago offices of Converse and asked for a job. Within a year, his personal modifications of the All-Star were incorporated, including a patch for ankle reinforcement. No slouches, they at the Converse offices--they forthwith slapped the All-Star logo on the patch, and a legend was born.

Taylor proved to be the Bible salesman of Converse shoes--his salesmanship was undergirded by his passion for basketball. Only a year after joining Converse, he created a "yearbook" that commemorated the sport's greatest moments, trainers, teams, and players. He also put on basketball clinics that, incidentally, demonstrated the superiority of All-Star shoes for the sport. According to a past company president,

"Chuck's gimmick was to go to a small town, romance the coach, and put on a clinic. He would teach basketball and work with the local sporting goods dealer, but without encroaching on the coach's own system."

He got so friendly with the athletics directors around the country that schools and YMCAs used to call him for recommendations of new coaches to hire.

He traveled the country in a white Cadillac with a trunkful of shoes in the back. He lived out of motels; his permanent residence was a locker in the company's Chicago warehouse. He retired in 1968 and died a year later.

Converse "Just Add Color" adFast forward 30 years or so. Since the 60s, Converse has enjoyed the lion's share of the basketball shoe market. Fancy-ass sports shoes with orthopedic "technology" are coming into vogue, but in the hood, kids are still shooting b-ball on blacktop wearing--you guessed it--Chuck Taylors.

It's also the era of bicoastal rap rivalry. And in reppin' your affiliation, just as important as your rhymes and your homeys are the clothes you sport. Maybe even more so, because they tell the world who you are and what you stand for, before the beats begin to drop. And along with khaki suits and Locs sunglasses, Chuck Taylors were symbolic of West Coast pride.

This was all news to me, when I showed up for my first day of work at the Annapolis Trader Joe's wearing my black laceless Chucks. My supervisor took a look at my feet and said, "Oh, you're from California?"

TupacThat's how I came to learn of the Chuck Taylor's canonical status in rap music. Their long roster of name-droppers include:

  • Jay Rock, "Follow Me Home": 6-4's we rollin, Chuck Taylors and Nikes, wifebeaters and white tees
  • The Game, "Compton Compton": Walk in my Chuck Taylors for a day, if you think it ain't f'real
  • Snoop Dogg, "Lodi Dodi": Now I'm fresh, dressed, like a million bucks, threw on my white socks with my all-blue Chucks
  • Ice Cube, "Friday": He's bout hard as Darth Vader in his sweat shirt, khakis and Chuck Taylors.

And, of course, the all-time favorite, which snubs East-side flossing with laid-back Best Coast keeping of the real:

[audio mp3="http://www.theconnoisseurs.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/08-California-Love.mp3"][/audio]

By the time I started exercising by choice (rather than by the compulsion of P.E. teachers), it was a matter of course that athletic endeavors required a specialized form of orthopedic technology. So that's what I wore for running--big, heavy boots made of layers of molded foam. But for walking--even if it was miles of Paris cobblestone streets, or hours from Prospect Park to Coney Island and back--I always wore my Chucks.

Then came barefoot running, thank the Lord, and the less-is-more philosophy that our feet will pretty much take care of themselves.

Now it makes perfect sense why my Chucks were, are, and always will be my favorite traveling shoe.

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I bought my Chucks at Tilly's in Escondido, but you can get them online too.