Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Feel Bad About My Shoes

by Amy Ruhlin

I discovered Crocs when I was in my 30s.  I would wear them to walk the dog or to work in the yard and even to my children’s bus stop where other young mothers stood in more fashionable footwear.   And though I did understand that my shoes were not the epitome of high fashion, I also knew that what they lacked in sex appeal they made up for in comfort. And frankly, I just didn't give a damn. I had so much else going for me: 30-something bouncy, thick hair; a young mother’s plump complexion and nary a grey hair in sight.
As I moved into my 40s, I began to wear my Crocs more often. I discovered that I could walk an entire amusement park from sunup to sundown and I would still have happy feet. While my kids complained that they were tired and their feet hurt, I would brag that my feet were just fine and suggest that we stand in that long line for the roller coaster one more time. I learned that I could explore new cities by foot for days on end without a complaint of fatigue ever crossing my lips.   

When I entered my 50s, I began to notice that my hair did not look 30-something anymore and that my plump complexion was gaining some creases. In an attempt to ward off my panic, I began to read about how to be “50 and fabulous.” Unfortunately, fashionable shoes seemed to be part of the deal.
I did some research and discovered that my beloved plastic shoes now came in different styles. So, I ordered four pairs. I made sure to buy them all in black so that I could be a sophisticated 50-something.   I bought a few that had little straps, which made them look more like sandals and I even found some that had no holes!  When they arrived in the mail, I modeled them for my young-adult children who of course know all of the latest shoe trends.

“Look at my cool shoes!” I said. “They're black and clunky which makes them look hip and retro when I wear them with my jeans, don’t you think?”
“No, mom” they said.  “They are plastic and everyone makes fun of them. You really shouldn’t wear them.”

Then I began to read terrible things about my shoes:
“They’re bad for the environment!” “They can’t be recycled!” “They will cause your arches to collapse!” And worst of all, I began to see cruel Facebook posts about them. One particularly heartbreaking one went something like this: “Wow, that's a nice looking pair of Crocs. Said No One Ever.”  I began to feel bad about my shoes.

Recently, my husband and I explored a new city. I wore stylish black flats to walk in during the day but by evening, my feet were not happy. And neither was I.  But still, hoping to be “50 and fabulous” I wore suede boots out to dinner, but on the walk back to the hotel I slipped and fell in the middle of the street and I broke my foot.
“This never would have happened if I’d been wearing my Crocs!” I screamed.

My husband helped me out of the street and the next day the doctor gave me an air cast to wear on my left foot for at least six weeks. He told me to wear a supportive shoe on my right foot to balance the weight, but I didn’t think that would look very fabulous.
This was not good timing. I had a beach trip to go on with my girlfriends from high school.  It was bad enough that I had to go in an air cast so I was determined to wear a nice looking shoe on my good foot.  I did look pretty cute hobbling around in one great shoe, but it gave my foot no support so by the end of the trip both of my ankles were blown up like balloons from walking around with uneven weight. I know without a doubt that this would not have happened if I had worn my Crocs.

I’ve decided that holey, plastic shoes were sent to Earth from the shoe Gods and that I would be kicking a gift horse in the mouth if I did not graciously accept. So, as I move into the remainder of my 50s and into my next decades, I will proudly and gratefully wear them and I will feel good about my shoes. My feet and I will be happy, and that will make most everything fabulous.

Friday, April 5, 2013

I Still Love a Road Trip

by Amy Ruhlin

James Taylor released a song in 1976 called, "Nothing Like A Hundred Miles." Whenever I'd hear it, I longed for the road and for the sight of that yellow line disappearing behind me in my rear-view mirror. I loved the refrain: "There's nothing like a hundred miles between me and trouble in my mind. There's nothing like a hundred miles somebody show me the yellow line."

The lyrics have stayed with me all of these years, rumbling around in my head as I envision black tires moving along faded asphalt. When I get restless, which is often, those words roll into the back of my throat and up to the tip of my tongue, and then I know that it's time for a road trip.

I'm not sure when my love affair with the road began. Maybe it was the summer my mother and I loaded up my tiny Honda Civic 1200, which had no air conditioner, and drove from our small North Carolina town all the way to Portland, Oregon. My mother was 54-years-old and she didn't think twice about the driving conditions or how she'd fare on such a long trip. She had boundless energy and in fact, years later, when she turned 70, she traveled through Europe for the first time.

I was 17 when we drove to Portland. Each time we crossed a state line, I entered a new world where a surprise seemed to be waiting just for me.

In Kansas, we made a pit stop at a gas station. As I opened the door to the ladies room, I heard familiar voices and then I saw two faces I knew, girlfriends from my hometown who were on an adventure of their own with a teen camping tour of the West. We screamed and giggled because honestly, what were the chances? We were on a dusty road in the middle of the prairie, 900 miles from home. Kansas opened me up to the possibilities of finding magic anywhere, even in a run-down gas station surrounded by empty fields.

In New Mexico, my mother and I drove along two-lane roads weaving my car through towering pink canyons. One late afternoon I saw a blue flashing light behind us, so I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped the car. I rolled down my window and a police officer wearing a cowboy hat appeared over my left shoulder. I'd never seen a cop wearing a cowboy hat. He glanced at our license plate and asked us what we were doing so far from home and if we realized that we were speeding. We told him that we had no idea. He looked up at the sky for a few moments and then he told us that $55.00 should cover the fine, so we handed over our cash. Later, after he was gone, my mother said that she hoped he bought himself something nice with our money.

When we drove back home and crossed the North Carolina state line along the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, I told my mother that I hadn't seen anything prettier than these ancient, green hills that I had grown up in. It's amazing what you learn out on the road.

My husband had a different travel experience during his formative years. He lived overseas so he grew up with transatlantic flights and Eurail passes. After we married, I had to convince him of the glories of the road.

One summer when we were in our mid-20s and living in the Midwest, I said "Let's drive to California!" And he said, "Are you crazy?" But once I got him on the road he leaned his head back, shut his eyes and said, "This is great."

By the time we made it to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, he was smitten with stark beauty and vast space. But then our air conditioner broke and I began to worry that he wouldn't think all of this driving was fun anymore. As we neared Nevada, a casino appeared on the horizon and when we reached it we went inside to cool off. It was the first time we'd seen a slot machine and after we'd used up our roll of coins we got back in the car and drove to Oakland, California in the cool evening air.

A few weeks ago, I began to hear the rumblings of the old James Taylor song rolling around in my head. Our son was going on a high school spring trip soon so my husband and I would have some days to ourselves.

"We have a whole week," I told him. "Let’s go somewhere!"

"How about Santa Fe?" he suggested. "You've always wanted to go there."

He knew what was coming next because we've been having the same conversation for thirty years. He suggests a flight and I offer an alternative.

"Well," I said, "We could always drive somewhere."

He said that would be fine. He's a good sport, my husband. Although I do sometimes acquiesce, and travel his way.

I flew to Italy with him a few years ago and I must say, those nine hours of my white knuckles and constant fear that the plane was going down any minute and we'd never see our children again were worth it once I stepped onto the streets of Rome. I was thrilled to be in the Eternal City but I sure was glad when our plane landed safely back home so I could start planning our next road trip.

I got out my map to see where we could go while our son was away. We began to make plans, but then we began to have doubts. Maybe the driving would be too hard on my husband's fragile back. Maybe we were getting too old for long road trips. Maybe I needed to load up on Xanax and fly away to some far-off land.  Instead, we drove to Nashville, Tennessee.

Music City was great and on the drive there we discovered a winery that makes a delicious Cabernet, a beautiful University in the Cumberland Plateau and the factory where our favorite cast iron pots are made.  There were so many surprises waiting for us out there along the Tennessee roads.

We hope to travel a lot in the years to come. And I will fly when I must. But all I really want is for somebody to just show me the yellow line.