Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stepping out

Sometimes at the running store, I'm still a techno-talk neophyte when it comes to explaining how one shoe differs from another. Still, I'm pretty good at matching feet to shoes. Or, as I like to tell customers, "helping you find the most comfortable shoes you have ever worn in your entire life."

But where I falter in shoe-speak, I find my footing in chitchat. I like learning what (if any) training someone is doing. Why that person has decided to walk, or to run, or to keep doing either, or to simply find shoes that won't hurt his feet. I have been with people for as little as 10 minutes, or as long as one-and-a-half hours.

When I fit them into the right shoes, I'm happy. When I can make them smile or laugh, I beam.

That said, here are a few faves from the last few weeks.

1. The history-wearer. The man named Rich didn't know the treasure he wore on his feet. He just knew the Brooks Adrenaline had served him well. So I brought out a newer model. He tried them on, proclaimed them perfect, stood up and walked around to make doubly sure.
At that point Daniel, our assistant manager, was passing by. "Oh my GOSH!" he said, spotting the old shoes. He picked one up, looked it over and said, "How long have you had these?"
"Ten years," Rich said.
"They're the original Adrenalines!" Dan said, calling over another colleague to look at them. "I've never seen these before!"
"You can have them if you'd like," Rich said.
Daniel thanked him profusely and put the shoes in a glassed-in section of the front desk. He printed out a label giving Rich credit for his donation. It was pretty exciting. I think we all felt a bit like winners in our own version of Antiques Roadshow.

2. The father & daughter. Confession: When the heavyset man came in wearing a White Rock Marathon t-shirt, I didn't think it was his. I am happy that it was, because it furthers my belief that anyone can have the passion, and that anyone can run.
He brought his daughter in. They're running her first half marathon together this Sunday, and he wanted her to have the right shoes. She's 13, a teen-ager who texted her friends between try-ons; a little girl who giggled when I told her the red Nikes were just right for her foot, and who pranced around to show her dad how they looked.
Interesting, what you can learn about someone in an hour-and-a-half. The girl's favorite color is red. She had just moved from her mother's home in another city into her dad's. She has a sister. He has a girlfriend who is coming in town to run the half with them. Father and daughter seemed so easy, so respectful, so comfortable with each other.
After she found her shoes, he decided he wanted some, too. Six pairs later, he decided on the very first ones he'd tried on, which were the same make and model he was wearing. That was fine with me; I enjoyed their company, and feeling part of something rather special.

3. The hero. The tall, blondish man said he was just starting to run again after five years. So yeah, of course I asked the story of why. He told me he was four months away from running his fourth White Rock marathon. One night, he was home with his year-old daughter when they next-door neighbor's house caught on fire. He ran onto his roof to spray it with water and protect it -- and thus his daughter and his home -- against the fast-approaching flames.
The firefighters, seeing how close the fire was, screamed at him to get off the roof. So he jumped, breaking both ankles. The day after surgery, he asked his doctor if he could run again. The reply: "Right now, you're lucky to be able to walk."
Five years later, he runs fewer miles in a week than what he'd run on a long Sunday run. But he's learned a lot -- about capabilities, about strength, about the human spirit. And he, unlike most of us, takes nothing for granted.

4. The size observer.
We noticed her shoes as she walked in: Four-inch patent-leather heels.
I fitted her into a pair or running shoes that seemed much more comfortable. She was happy with them; I was relieved when I was able to talk her into a bigger size. She was very nice but, as way too many customers are, overly concerned with sizes. Clothing, I can sort of see. But none of us has control over the size of shoe we wear.
I put her shoebox on the counter and took her to look at apparel. She selected a sleeveless top.
"I think I'd wear the small," she said. "What do you think?"
My eyes tried to avoid her cleavage (read: ample bosom) that was never intended to fit into the built-in bra of a small (or even a medium) size. We didn't have a medium so I tried to be diplomatic.
"Well," I said, "you're a bit...well endowed for a small, I think. How about if you try a small and a large and see if maybe the medium would be the right size. Then I could get it from another store."
"Oh I could never wear a large," she said.
She found a medium in another color and carried it to the dressing room. A few minutes later, she called me in.
"Look," she said. "The medium is just perfect isn't it."
It wasn't a question, so I didn't feel compelled to totally answer.
"That is such a pretty pattern, and the color looks really good on you," I said. "How does it feel?"
"It feels great," she said.
"That's the important thing," I said. "I think you should get it."

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