Telephone lines are where small, brown sparrows perch to gather heat in the dead of winter. These single-lined wires held up by monstrous wooden giants are where electricians are supposed to comically fall, as depicted in many cartoons. Blindingly white sparks are intended to erupt from the telephone lines when they are hit with a lightening bolt.
Instead of brown sparrows or hanging electricians, three or four tied pairs of shoes are dangling from these lines in the city of Urbana.
The popular rumor is that shoes dangling from a telephone wire is meant to indicate drugs on the block. An indication that will not catch the suspicion from the police, the rumor states, eliciting my curiosity.
This is what I have learned: shoefiti is the practice of throwing shoes tied together by the laces over power lines, fences and telephone wires. Other myths around the infamous art are that shoe tossing indicates gang activity, bullying, an adolescent’s loss of virginity, a rite of passage when the school year lets out, or something just for kicks.
I have always wondered about the reason behind the shoes carelessly tossed around the power lines in C-U. I want to believe it is about childish notions or adolescent rough-housing that comes to no harm.
The art of shoe tossing isn’t limited to C-U or even the United States. From Seattle, Washington to Lausanne, Switzerland, shoes are being tossed around the world, according to Shoefiti.com. This website documents the traveled shoes that are dangling world-wide on power lines.
In the movie Big Fish, the main character stumbles across a town where none of the residents wear shoes. As the main character starts to understand this bizarre town, his shoes are stolen and tossed over the power lines to prevent him from leaving. It hardly prevents this main character from leaving because he knows that settling in this particular town is not his destiny so he keeps walking with or without his shoes.
Think beyond telephone wires, power lines and fences to something that is rooted beneath us all. A tree with swinging shoes of all shapes, sizes and colors resides in a small town in Michigan on the side of a busy highway. It is filled with shoes from the lowest, scraggly branches to the branches barely scraping the clouds. From the road, the leaves are not even distinguishable. The tree is filled from branch to bark with shoes, illuminating a nonconformist society where each shape, size and color is valued.
My shoes travel everywhere with me to the snow-stretched mountains of Yellowstone, to the salt-infested waters of the Dead Sea, to the corn-congested corners of Champaign-Urbana and to my grass-rooted home in the ‘burbs. I wear my shoes until they are ripping at the seams, until the rubber is smoothly worn down and until the rainwater easily gushes into the holes left by the burnt out fabric. At the end of my time with my tan-colored sneakers with their maroon shoelaces, I am just looking to toss them across a low-hanging branch or a high-up power line to signify a new start, a new chapter in my extraordinary life.
A fresh start where foolish blunders, heartaches and bad beginnings can be forgotten entirely with a new pair of shoes that will travel with me to the ends of the earth. A new pair of shoes that will take me to the sun-scorched pavements of Atlanta, to the bayou-brimmed breadth of Louisiana and to wherever else my feet decide to go.