I bought my first pair of Converse 17 years ago, and I was smitten. They were black, low-top Chuck Taylor All-Stars– rubber sides and toe caps adorned with the markedly chunky print of teenage-girl graffiti, canvas body softened and faded by devout wear. They were classic, comfortable, and maybe even cool by certain standards.
I recently decided to buy a new pair of Chucks, inspired in part by “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” in part by my eight-year-old daughter’s Converse-copycat Payless Airwalks, and in part by what my husband so lovingly refers to as my “midlife crisis” (which, if you do the math, has me kicking the bucket by 62, so I may as well live it up with my footwear while I can).
I had no desire to play the part of old-lady-clinging-to-youth for the entertainment of mall rats too young to have seen the eponymous film in theaters, so I ordered the shoes online. I waited with eager anticipation for them to arrive, but as soon as I took them out of the box, I knew these weren’t the Chucks of my youth.
Compared to the shoes in my memory, the new ones were too light. I tried them on, and my feet confirmed what my eyes already knew: the rubber soles weren’t nearly as thick as they used to be, and the canvas felt cheaper, too. I went back to the online store to make sure I’d ordered the right ones, but I had. It was just that the “right” ones weren’t so right anymore.
As it happens, the day my anticlimaxes arrived was the same day I tried out my French press for the first time. Before you call me a coffee snob, let me just say: my friends gave me the press as a gift. It was time-consuming and a little messy, but it made a cup of coffee that kicked my automatic drip’s ever-loving ass. I may quite possibly be ruined for life.
I sat with my (ridiculously snobbish but) exquisite cup of coffee and did a quick Google search to find out what had gone so terribly wrong with my beloved sneakers, and what I learned made perfect sense. A few years after I got my first pair, Converse was sold to Nike and production was moved from the United States to China. Evidently quality was lost in translation.
When my daughter came home from school and found me wearing shoes that resembled hers– not only in appearance but now, clearly, in quality as well– she was excited and even a little jealous. She told me that I was lucky I got the All-Stars because they were better than her Airwalks for “walking on your toes.” And while I had to concede that that was a valid, if moot, point, it made me realize: Our consumer culture has settled for mediocrity.
The fact that my child is so accustomed to her knock-off shoes as to consider the demonstrably decreased-quality Converse to be superior is telling. We’ve accepted crappy shoes in place of decent ones, quickly dripped coffee instead of a well-crafted brew. We want what’s cheap and convenient, and usually, that’ll do for me.
But these shoes I’m wearing– I wish they were a little more classic, a little more comfortable, maybe even a little more cool by certain standards. If I could just have my old Chucks back, I’d even let you call me a sneaker snob.