Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Loneliness of a Single Shoe on the Highway

I can understand the bunched-up article of clothing, the broken Styrofoam cooler, the beat up mattress or recliner, even the battered microwave.  Fast food bags, cups, beer bottles, cardboard and tires are no-brainers.  But it’s the appearance of a lone shoe that gets me thinking.  Small and forlorn; holding the shape of a foot, it’s almost a living thing as it rests on the concrete.  Cars and vans, trucks and motorcycles speed by, the people inside mostly oblivious to it.  

It’s surprising how often one sees a single sneaker, pump, work boot or sandal resting along the highway.  Was it thrown out of the window in anger?  Drunken abandon?  Did it somehow come loose from luggage atop the car and tumble onto the roadway?  Sometimes the shoe is positioned so it looks as if at any moment it will begin striding purposefully forward.  Other times it lies on its side, exhausted with the sadness of its fate, hopeless.  I imagine someone walking along with one shoe, loping unevenly up and down, up and down, somehow unaware of their loss until the lost shoe is too many miles behind them to retrieve.

It’s a lonely image, the abandoned shoe.  Rocked by passing semis, drenched with rain and snow, coated with road dirt and salt, it sits stoically through it all, waiting to be rescued.  If I just stay right here, my owner will come and get me!  Does the owner miss it?  Do they wonder as to the whereabouts of the companion to the shoe they still have, puzzling as they hold the remaining one?  It’s like breaking the bond between twins.  What is the sound of one hand clapping; well, what is the worth of a single shoe?  Whether right or left, its utility is stripped away; the task it was born to unfulfilled – and yet there it is – perfectly good - sturdy, stylish or beloved.  It makes no difference.  Its destiny is the trash can while its mate waits patiently along the side of the road.

(Go ahead and Google "lone shoe on highway" and see what you find.  Lots.  There's even a Wikipedia entry on it!  What it all just means, sadly, is that I'm not that original.  I'm glad that I didn't Google this topic BEFORE I wrote this post...)


  1. Shoes are pretty powerful symbols. I've noticed that when I see photos of a bomb blast and I see a victim's shoe, for some reason, that is particularly moving and sad.

  2. when I was little, I remember hearing a joke about a hobo - that's what they used to call homeless people, you know - it always seemed like a term that even though a bit denigrating offered more hope and compassion than "homeless" - which is just to phonically close to "hopeless" for my tastes - "hobo" always seemed to suggest a sense of adventure and possibility and freedom - but maybe that's just me...

    anyway, I digressed - there was a hobo walking along wearing only one shoe, a passerby said to him, "you lost a shoe." - the hobo replied, "nope, I found one!" that little story has stuck with me for years - it's surprising how often it seems to have inspiring applications.


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