The irony wasn’t lost on me. I was driving to a location, The Waterfront in Homestead, that was once the site of a massive steel mill. Now it was a retail/office/residential/dining complex. Not far from where the Pinkerton guards once came ashore on barges to battle with the striking (and poorly paid) workers of Andrew Carnegie’s steel mill, I bought new shoes at the DSW.
As I typically do when I go to DSW, I went right to the clearance rows in the back of the store. There wasn’t anything that jumped out at me. Where men did hard physical labor for many years and were underpaid and under-appreciated for most of those years, I was going to have to pay the DSW full price.
I needed a pair of comfortable, multipurpose shoes. Not dress shoes to wear with a suit and tie and not shoes that were too casual or looked to much like work shoes. Something in between.
It was in the third row of the men’s section that I first saw them. A pair of black, mid-rise Timberland boots. The inside was lined with orange-colored padding. Good looking, comfortable and practical. I was able to tie them tight against my ankle, something I need in a shoe. I kept them on for about 10 minutes and did a few laps around the store before buying them. They were keepers.
Those shoes, with me attached, have seen a good bit of the world. Those shoes went to Europe five times and Asian countries five times. Those shoes walked on the beaches of Normandy, the battlefields of Bastogne and visited the River Kwai. The Timberlands and I stood at the top of Mount Sirabachi while looking down at the invasion beaches of Iwo Jima.
But the shoes didn’t tour just historical military sites. They also acquired some culture. I have seen all 37 paintings attributed to the Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer. Those shoes saw at least 30 of them, including one inside Buckingham Palace where the shoes and I were given a private showing of a Vermeer. The shoes and I stepped inside Sigmund Freud’s homes in both London and Vienna.
The shoes looked and felt great in airports, train stations, walking miles on city streets and in various nightspots in various cities. On a few occasions, the Timberlands actually took a walk with shoes worn by an attractive female.
These half-boots made it easy for me to pack. I didn’t have to take other shoes, there was more space in my carry-on bag, and I was styling no matter what jeans, shirts or jackets I wore.
The best shoe guy in town, Gabe of Gabriel Shoe Repair, had resoled and reheeled the Timberlands twice. He recently did minor surgery on the heels of one of the shoes. Even though they were still looking good and serving their purpose, I decided it was time for a change.
I didn’t tell the Timberlands where we were going but we returned to the same DSW. This time, in the clearance section, there was not one but two pair of shoes that jumped at me, like puppies in the kennel. The globetrotting Timberlands would be traveling no more.
As I was finalizing my transaction, I asked the clerk if she could dispose of my shoes. I didn’t feel guilty throwing them away at the store. After all, they were just shoes, right?
No, not right. They were special. More than just a piece of leather cut to size 10.5 with laces attached. These shoes had sole. I decided to bring them home, stick them in my office closet and let them stay there.
While I was driving back from the store, a light bulb went off above my head. Operation Safety Net is a provider of medical services and other necessities to the homeless population. It was started in 1992 by Dr. Jim Withers, a Mercy Hospital physician. I first became aware of the group after seeing the white box van parked in various spots Downtown. I had donated some Carhartt coats, heavy sweatshirts, sweaters and insulated boots to the group in the past. I drove to their offices on Forbes Avenue, close to Mercy Hospital.
I was almost apologetic when I showed the shoes to the office staff. They were in the box that my new shoes came in. The young lady in the office couldn’t have been more gracious. She assured me that the shoes would find a new owner and would be appreciated. She made me feel good about my decision.
If you have cold weather gear that is hanging in the closet, or insulated boots you no longer wear, please consider donating them to Operation Safety Net (www.pmhs.org/operation-safety-net, 888-492-8950). The new owner will be appreciative. If you don’t have such items, consider making a cash donation to the organization.
As for my shoes, may the new owner be warm, not hungry, safe, blister-free and may they remain as comfortable for him as they were for me.
Ken Kaszak is a financial adviser based in Pittsburgh.