A couple of weeks ago, my husband was surprised by something in downtown San Francisco.
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While walking to work, he saw about 30 people in the 900 block of Market Street waiting in line. He assumed they were homeless people, lining up for a meal. But when he encountered them again the next morning, still in line, with tents, sleeping bags, cots and chairs, he asked a guy near the back what they were waiting for.
“Shoes,” he said.
Not shoes for the homeless — quite the opposite. These people, a United Nations of ethnicity, mostly young, mostly male, were waiting in front of Shiekh Shoes, a store that would be part of the release of the much-anticipated Nike Air Yeezy, designed by rapper Kanye West.
The price? $245.
The next day my husband asked more questions — of a guy near the front of the line. It was Thursday now, and the young man said he had been waiting since Monday; the shoes would go on sale Saturday.
Nike had announced that it would produce no more than 5,000 pairs worldwide, the kind of competitive situation that surely meant that some of the shoppers were waiting for shoes only to resell them. As of this writing, a couple dozen pairs are listed on eBay for between $1,500 and $2,200.
“But that’s not why most of them wait,” said my husband. “They are collectors.” He has seen shoe collections on TV, displayed as if they were museum art on the wall.
Features that make guys yearn to own the Yeezy, besides exclusivity, are leather carved to look like anaconda skin, and glow-in-the-dark soles, an item that strikes me as passé because they were a hit with my toddler son in the 1980s.
Nike’s ads for the shoe also crow about “concealed but opulent details” that “reference ancient civilizations, including a loop strap with hieroglyphics that spell out ‘YZY.’”
Some purchasers do plan to wear the shoes — under certain conditions. My husband didn’t question the San Francisco men in depth, but the New York Post interviewed New Yorkers and learned that some purchasers will wear their shoes, but only after the hype has passed. At first, they’re afraid of being assaulted and robbed.
Shoe lines themselves can be dangerous. In December 2011 crowds, fights and pepper spray were reported across the U.S. as anxious shoppers lined up to buy Nike Jordan Retros. This time some stores used a lottery system to avoid mayhem.
My husband snapped a couple of photos of the Market Street line and brought them home to me.
“I wonder if there’s anything we’d be willing to line up for like that,” he said.
(Out of such remarks, columns are born.)
The answer came to my mind immediately. If it were something for our children, yes. In fact, a number of years ago, I prepared for one line in Davis as single-mindedly as a San Francisco shoe shopper.
It was the line for extra tickets to the Davis Children’s Nutcracker. The show, which began in 1977, has a huge cast, approximately 250 children, each with parents and relatives who want to attend. It also has a limited engagement (five nights plus a dress rehearsal) and a fairly small venue, the Veterans Auditorium with 320 seats.
Parents of performers are guaranteed a few seats, but if you want to bring various aunts and uncles and out-of-town guests, you need extra tickets. Each year my children performed, I studied when extra tickets would go on sale, arranged to take off work, and headed over to wait in line, sometimes as early as 6:30 a.m.
I have never, however, waited in line overnight as other parents do for the chance to place their child in a desirable school or program.
I would if I had to.
And to tell the truth, I prefer the camaraderie of a real line with real people — even at the DMV — to the unseen “other customers ahead of me” in a phone queue.
But the story of the Nike line bothered me.
Sure, we need to keep the economy humming and all that, and Nike does its part, but didn’t I read that more than 50 percent of their shoe-related workforce is located overseas?
And there’s something else. Only two long blocks from Shiskh Shoe in San Francisco is St. Anthony’s Dining Hall, a charity where my father-in-law worked as head cook in the 1970s, a shelter that has served poor and homeless Tenderloin residents since 1950. Long lines of bedraggled people still form there every day.
They don’t have all the things the shoe shoppers had: time off from work, portable or delivered food, sleeping bags and cots, friends to hold their places when they leave to use the bathroom or shower, and $245. The Nike shoppers were doing their thing and they were happy.
From a high floor of a nearby building, you could have captured the two groups in one photograph.
Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.