Apr 9, 2010

Traveling Heavy, Traveling Light

"'cuse sur. Soes stay here." It took me a bit to figure out what he was saying. I was in the Dodge City Best Western for my father's funeral. It was 5AM and I'd wandered the motel's halls discovering the closed pool and the locked gym area and I'd found myself in the "hospitality room" breakfast area. I'd almost sat down to take advantage of hospitality coffee when an employee dressed in kitchen whites pointed out that I needed "soes" to be in that area.

It brought me back to memories of California, almost instantly. As I plodded back to our room, I thought about how strange it was that the wealthiest, hippest place I'd ever lived, Southern California, was the least formal and the worst places I'd lived, Dodge City as a prime example, were the most formal. One of our favorite hangouts in Huntington Beach was Duke's Beach Restaurant and Barefoot Bar another was Mazotti's. I doubt that I ever wore shoes into either of those great places or half of the other restaurants where I spent money in California. The "shoes" I wore for almost all of my spare time were flipflops and they were practically invisible because my feet were covered in sand most days away from work. Along the beach, which is the only place to be in California, not only are shoes optional but clothes were optional-to-minimal.

Travel 2,000 miles inland to the worst armpit villages you can imagine in the Midwest and you may be expected to wear a tie and sport jacket for food that is barely digestible and "atmosphere" that reeks of feedlot aroma. You will not be allowed to grab a coffee and roll wearing a swimming suit and towel without being reprimanded by a non-English speaking hotel employee. This isn't about insurance liability or any practical value, it's a local taboo with a long, strange history.

If taboos in 2010 weren't so pitiful, they would be a lot funnier. Hell, it's hard for me to say the word "taboo" without laughing. It conjures up images of bones in noses, pedophile priests torturing heretics, and baseball players living in the same sox all season.

Clothing, especially formal clothing, has been designed to project an image of wealth and power or function and utility; if you are working class. The more you know about the history of clothing, the funnier looking rich humans become. Ties, particularly, provide a lot of entertainment. Like loop earrings, they provide a handle for an opponent in a fight, so wearing either is a demonstration of either helplessness or a good bodyguard. In a business environment, those of us not blessed with pencil necks are cursed with poor blood flow while wearing ties and buttoned top collars. Shoes are pretty hillarious, too. Recent research has found that modern shoe design might be a cause of foot, knee, hip, and back injuries. It turns out that walking and running barefoot could be dramatically healthier than walking or running in any shoe design we've yet devised. Go figure. A couple million years of evolution beats the best work of New York's fashion designers?

I'm a big fan of shoes, particularly boots, on my motorcycle. The heavier, the less-flexible the better. But I'm not planning on walking much in those boots. Their purpose is to protect my feet from the abrasive effects of asphalt and gravel. My favorite riding boots have done that job pretty well in the past.

It turns out that my packing skills are better suited for solo motorcycle travel than for crossing the country in a station wagon with my wife. I'm more comfortable sleeping in a campground in a tent than in a hotel suite and I pack more what I need and less what I think I might want in the limited constraints of a motorcycle's storage. For example, I brought three books, this computer, school course work to organize and homework to grade, a suit, two pairs of uncomfortable shoes, a couple dress shirts, a tie, but I forgot to pack a warm jacket or comfortable shoes. On the bike, I live in my 'stich Darien gear and my riding boots, and I pack a pair of camp shoes that I live in once I'm off of the bike. If I don't need it, I don't pack it on the bike. I could haul a rock band in my wife's Taurus station wagon.

Summer is coming and I'm going to need a long ride to sort out all of the baggage I'm taking on this weekend. Where ever I go, shoes will not be required any time I'm off of the motorcycle.

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