It all changed on September 16, 2009.
That night, my son and I went to see the band Son Volt perform at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live, one of my favorite venues in the city. Fronted by guitarist Jay Farrar, Son Volt was touring in support of American Central Dust, their seventh album and their Rounder Records debut. Jay was one of the founders of the early and influential alt-country band Uncle Tupelo. In 1994, Jay convinced drummer Mike Heidorn to join him in his new band, Son Volt, while the remainder of Uncle Tupelo continued on as Wilco, led by Jay's adversarial bandmate Jeff Tweedy. Needless to say, based on the subsequent output of music, Jeff was the visionary and Jay... well, Jay played guitar.
I was a fan of Son Volt's first two albums, but had not purchased any of their releases since 1998's Wide Swing Tremolo, and I was sort of disappointed by that one. My son scored free tickets to the show and there is very little that I will turn down for free.
We stood at stage front as the opening act — a very ordinary young lady with a big acoustic guitar — wailed through thirty minutes worth of forgettable tunes. After a brief intermission, Son Volt took the stage. Jay and company plodded through song after dirge-like song, his low register muttering the barely discernible lyrics. Even songs with which I was familiar were rendered unrecognizable by his throaty mumble. At one point, I leaned over and whispered to my son, "When are they gonna do 'Windfall'?," referring to the lead track from 1995's Trace and one of my favorites. He cocked a sarcastic eyebrow and replied, "I think they've being doing it for the last forty-five minutes."
But then, something caught my eye.
As Jay shuffled about the stage, avoiding the cables and randomly stomping on his effects pedals, I saw, peeking out from under the frayed cuffs of his jeans, the coolest pair of boots I ever laid my eyes upon. They were jet black and accented by a solid metal ring at the ankle that was held in place by three thick, riveted leather straps. Since my line of vision was even with his feet, I was transfixed by those boots. Suddenly the music became a misty curtain of white noise. The ambient murmur of the crowd faded into a low, echo-y drone. I was all consumed by the exquisite footwear on display before me. I pointed the boots out to my son, who just shrugged them off with disinterest. But not me. I wanted those boots.
As soon as I got home from the show, I ran to the computer to find and order a pair of those boots. Reliable ol' Zappos.com did not disappoint. A few clicks through their easily-navigable website and I had located an offering of Harley-Davidson model number 1008454 boots — "El Paso." I could almost hear the haunting wah-wah of the theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as every angle of those boots were splayed across my monitor. I eagerly added a size 9-and-a-half to my virtual shopping cart and clicked the big "Checkout" button. After entering all of the pertinent information, I surrendered $139.00, which would be charged to my credit card. I was informed that my order was upgraded to "free priority shipping" at no additional charge. It wouldn't be long now.
My boots arrived in a day or two. They were, in a word, awesome. I wore them every single day until Memorial Day 2011, when I was forced to buy a new pair. Those El Pasos served me well. They were durable, reliable and comfortable — from the very second I slid my feet into them. They were the greatest things I ever put on my feet. Much to my dismay, Zappos no longer stocked El Pasos, so I substituted a pair of Harley Sidestreets, a nearly identical boot, but with a slightly longer "leg shaft," as I have come to know as an industry term for the part that you put your foot in and eventually envelopes your ankle and calf.
Yesterday, after almost three years of daily wear, my Sidetstreets gave out. I came home and attempted to remove my boots. The left one came off just fine. The right one, however, put up a fight when I tried to slide down the side zipper. I tugged and pulled until the zipper pull came off in my hand, leaving the zipper in a fully fastened state. My foot was locked in my right boot! I sat on the den sofa, pulling and yanking, twisting and maneuvering, until I forced that leather foot prison over my heel. I finally freed myself. It was as though the boot didn't want to let go, almost sensing its fate, clinging to its service, its final hurrah, knowing a new, younger replacement was just a few mouse-clicks away.
Once again, Sidetstreets are not part of Zappos' stock anymore, so I settled for the metal ring-less "Mason" model. According to tracking, I should have my new boots by Friday.