It’s in the Shoes


You can tell who goes where by the shoes they wear.

It’s 5:30 AM, a little chilly from the wind blowing across the Hudson, as I walk up a long flight of stairs that lead to the platform where I can catch the commuter train to the City. I look up, see a small hulking figure wearing a hoodie. I can’t see his face, just his tennis shoes, looks like he’s standing at the top of the stairs. I’m a little apprehensive, hesitate, and just for a moment, it reminds me of that scene from the French Connection. But he moves on, so I keep walking up the steps. I open the door, see another guy, well dressed, standing at the other end of the platform, staring at the floor.

I walk towards him, keep my head down just enough to see him, but so as not to catch his eye. As I approach, I notice the man is wearing a nice pair of shoes; they’re well shined. Then it hits me — it’s the shoes; they tell you everything you need to know, instantly!

I walk down the stairs leading to the platform, pass by lots of figures, some huddled up to keep warm, others scurrying about; they wear working boots, scuffed, tennis shoes with big knobby soles, some wear dress shoes. I head to machine, get my ticket, turn around to look at the people with the shoes. The working boots, wear jeans, heavy jackets and head gear; they’re workers going to the City, what else would they be. The tennis shoes, mostly women, carry large bags, nice coats, no head gear.

One woman is inside the coffee shop, she’s wearing heels, black stockings, a dress, coat with a puffy neck, and she’s made up her hair. She talking to a guy, looks like they know each other — they’re discussing stocks and bonds.

The train is coming, I now know everyone on the platform, what they do, where they’re going, who they know; it’s in the shoes, they tell you everything you need to know!

I sit down; picked a two seater near the door. I put my bag on the aisle seat, you know, to prevent anyone from seating next to me, protect my space — a typical defensive posture, almost universally understood. Everyone does it.

I settle in, can’t see shoes anymore. Everyone takes their usual seats. The ticket lady comes into the cab. She’s smiling, she knows everyone on the train, well, except me; I’m the newbie. But she smiles at me anyway — must be the way I’m dressed. I have to wear a suit today, look formal. I’m going to try and meet an important potential client at an event this morning, in Long Island; have to impress, I’m wearing black and clogs. The ticket lady is wearing bus driver shoes, very shiny; goes with her tidy uniform.

The train gets going. More people come in, the seats start to fill up. Someone is approaching, slowly. I try not to make eye contact, but I can see from the corner of my eye; a cane pops forward, then two black suede shoes. I hear a voice, “May I”, the lady says. She’s talking to me. “The seats are filled up”, she continues. I take my bag, move it out of the way. She sits down.

A nice lady, well dressed. She’s wearing black; black shiny winter coat with a puffy neck, black bag — everything matches.

I’m supposed to get off the train at 125th, the Harlem stop. I’m not familiar with the train routine and am thinking, they announce the major stops anyway, so I’ll be fine. The 125th is a major stop along this route.

The nice lady had fallen asleep. I mind my own business, not noticing the stops; except her shoes. Time goes by, my mind is somewhere else, on the meeting, and I’m rehearsing.

I look up, we’re not moving, the train has stopped a little longer than usual. It’s the 125th!

I have to get out, but I can’t. The lady with the cane and black suede shoes is still asleep. “I have to get out” I exclaim, grabbing my stuff. She wakes up, slowly. I move past her, get to the door. But it’s too late, the train had started to move. I miss my stop, frustrating — now I’m heading to Grand Central station!

I text my colleague, he was supposed to pick me up at 125th. I tell him I will double back, and to wait for me there. 

The train pulls in to Grand Central. I’m in a hurry, have to catch a train back. The train empties, I look down the platform — there is a mass of shoes, all walking in the same direction.

You can tell who’s going where, by the shoes they wear!


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