My father once told me: “When you judge a man, start from the ground up.” He may have been offering a foundational metaphor for a man’s character, but I doubt it. You see, he was a tough plain speaking Irishman. A smart man, though with little education, his schooling was street learned, Marine Corps hardened. He didn’t say much, but when he spoke it was advisable to listen. He said street clever things like “never write a check with your mouth that your ass can’t cash” and “If your gonna be dumb, ya better be tough” and my personal favorite “Winning isn’t everything, but losing is nothing!” So when he mused (not that he would ever use that word) that in observing another man to assess his character or intentions, good or bad, you should start with his “boots,” I trust he was not being metaphoric. I specifically refrain from using the noun ‘shoes’ because that is not what he said. He said “boots.” He rarely referred to shoes because he did not wear them. He wore boots. ‘Red Wing’ boots to be exact. Boots made in the good ol’ USA. His friends wore boots as well. Work boots, riding boots, hunting boots, winter boots and low cut waffle soled summer boots. They, as he, spent their lives on construction sites and in water treatment plants and electric transfer stations and up utility poles and in 18 wheelers, as well as on Harley Davidson’s and similar places where men have thick hands, thin tempers and a need for boots and not shoes. There were men whose day’s end meant meat and potatoes, canned beer and the luxury of unlacing your boots in a worn recliner surrounded by your family. In retrospect of his life, I cannot recall him ever wearing shoes. Not to church or out to dinner or to weddings, or to work (he was a plumber), or to the pub (which he frequented) or to funerals (not even his own) or anywhere else for that matter. Like many of you reading this story, he was a ‘boot’ man.
Accordingly, I have taken much notice of those I meet in my office, in a courtroom, in a bar or at a bike rally of what type of footwear they sport. I especially notice when out on the bike in a place where my compatriots of the open road meet up. I see lots of different types and styles of boots on all sorts of people. Most apropos, some not. As varied as the bikes we ride. Though, I do occasionally cringe at the guy in the lizard skin rhinestone studded boots with chrome toe caps. A silly man in woman’s boots, the words “village idiot” comes to mind. Not whom I’d want at my back in a bar when the chairs start flying. Rhinestones or chrome on boots for a man, always a fashion faux pas, but generally indicative of a bigger problem. Moreover, we have all seen the guy who clinks and clanks his way from his bike up to the bar wearing, (drum roll) — “spurs”!!!!! Yes, on his boots! You too have seen this guy. Typically he is 150 pounds overweight, he sports an 80’s Mullet haircut (bad then, bad now) under a dark cowboy hat, a cheesy porn star moustache adorns his upper lip and he will sometimes wear a leather or waxed canvas cowpoke duster. He is in fact not an idiot, but his mother simply paid him no attention as a child. He didn’t get attention then, so he’s forcing it upon himself now. God bless this poor fellow. If he only knew how much fun is made of him and his imaginary horse. All in the name of attempting ‘cool boots.’ Sacrebleu!
Most boots I see worn by bikers when out on my bike seem appropriate for the task of piloting one’s motorcycle across the highways and byways of America. I understand that all boots need to be broken in, although creased leather over worn faded soles are indicative of miles and earns immediate notice and respect from me. While I am a “Red Wing” man, I do not discriminate at anyone’s brand choice. Though it disheartens me to hear the Harley aficionado prideful of his ‘Made in America’ Harley boots. The “HD” logo stamped, stitched, glued, embroidered, painted and riveted 7 times left and 7 times right. He mistakenly believes he is wearing boots actually made in United States of America. Wrong! They come from China, even though he paid $375 for them. A slight of hand, perpetrated by “The Company.” Great bikes — boots, not so much. A “made in…” label stitched inside once offloaded from a Chinese freighter, but that’s about it. If you have followed my Musings, you know I love Harley Davidson bikes. Coffee, leathers, underwear, winter caps, watches, butt cream, wash soap, and boots, I’ll source somewhere else, thanks.
In major purchases, I typically seek the genuine ‘Made in the USA’ label. It takes a little research sometimes to figure out if my commiserating American taxpayer toiled over the task of making a particular product. So when buying riding boots the choices for me are really clear: Red Wing (Minnesota, 1905), Chippewa (Wisconsin, 1901), Belleville (Arkansas, 1904). All harvested, tanned, cut, stitched and hand built right here. I do not assert my position from a blind patriotic compulsion. They are objectively better boots, crafted by well paid ‘American’ professionals using superior materials. Not to mention return policies, defect safeguards, shipping issues, and good old fashioned pride.
My favorite pick for a riding boot is, as stated, the Red Wing motorcycle company. A choice made by my father. All he ever wore. Hand made in Red Wing, Minnesota, by the company of the same name. Founded in 1905 by Charles Beckman, the company makes the same hand stitched, top grain leather boots that are tried and true MADE IN AMERICA start to finish. Same as they did over 100 years ago. Starting 2 years after Harley Davidson began cranking out bikes from that little wooden shed in Milwaukee. The Red Wing Boot company came of age during WWI, when it contracted with Uncle Sam to make boots for our boys overseas. My Dad starting wearing them in the Marine Corps in the 1950’s. Brooklyn poverty taught him to fight, the Marines polished the skill and taught him loyalty. As a child I recall him getting a new pair of Red Wings every year right around Christmas. He’d beat the hell out of them welding and cutting pipe, crawling in ditches and through sewers and up scaffolding, through mud and snow and scorching summer heat. He was a brand loyal guy. Men inherit certain intangibles from their Dads. Politics, habits good and bad, beer preferences, baseball team allegiances, Ford, Chevy, Mopar – all allegiances typically handed down father to son. Most men and many women reading this know what I mean. I drive a Ford pickup simply because that’s what I was taught. I understand the company and have ridden in a Ford truck for 50 years. It’s what comforts me. My Dad did it, I do it, God willing my son Brendan will drive a Ford someday. When I pull on my Red Wing boots it just feels right. We have history together. Like Harley and I. Second to my leather jacket, they rank highest in my importance of riding gear. I don’t dislike the Chinese. Toiling away in a factory to build cheaper and lesser boots for a world market. That factory worker is simply feeding their kids. Same as me. I just have nothing in common with that person nor their company. My revenue stream needs to stay inside our border. Is the Toyota Tundra a superior pickup truck? Not to me. It does not move my soul. I have NO connection to its history. I know it is “assembled” in San Antonio Texas, but that’s different than “Made in America.” You may call me old fashioned or ill informed or even ignorant of macro economics on a global scale. But when I shift from 3rd to 4th with the steel toe of my Red Wings and reminisce of my Dad while throttling up a mountain pass it just feels good. If you need boots soon, do some research. Go see my man Mark at the Red Wing store on Mansell Road in Roswell. He’s from Brooklyn, like my Dad. You would be lying if you said your bike does not move your soul. Boots? Who knows? If not for anything else, you may be starting a family tradition. -Irish