There are four stores that specialize in shoes near the intersection where I deboard my morning Red Line subway train and walk toward the office during the week: Nike, Skechers, Payless ShoeSource (which is about to close), and Designer Shoe Warehouse, abbreviated as “DSW”. Before I knew what DSW officially stood for, I’ll admit to having referred to it as “Da Shoe Warehouse”. This is not a sales pitch, but DSW has often been a trusty source of shoes for both work and leisure, and if the prices are usually good (rather than exceptional), their wide selection of merchandise very often more than makes up for it.
As I round the corner from State Street to walk westward toward the Sears Tower (nobody correct me – I’m aware of what it’s been called for the last decade or so), there is sometimes a line outside the Nike store, just as there was just this past Friday morning. I deduce in such instances that there must be a new brand of Air Jordans being introduced, a gargantuan sub-brand which I understand inspires a very high level of devotion. There are sometimes people camped out in a queue on lawn chairs on the (wide) sidewalk outside the store.
The fact that it’s somewhat early in the morning and many of these shoe shoppers look like they’ve been there for a while always blows my mind. After all, on any given weekday around that same time, I’m headed to the office to the adventurous, sexy world of insurance underwriting. I’ve learned not to make assumptions about the employment status of others, as I come from a car-building factory town (Flint, Michigan), where many GM employees worked one of three shifts. I understand that a lot of working individuals do not share the same Nine-to-Five hours that I have.
Regardless, I thought it was fitting that this good-looking, dark blue 1980 Malibu coupe happened to be driving south on State Street when I spotted it right in front of the downtown DSW. The paint didn’t exactly look like a “factory” color, but what do I know? I think this great shade of dark blue is tasteful and really suits this car. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the wheels on it and the cost of an expensive pair of new kicks.
Hold your fire before you label these wheels as “clown shoes”. Much like an expensive pair of Air Jordans, wheels like these are something I would probably never put on a car I personally own, as they’re not exactly my jam, and they’d probably be out of my budget. The thing, though, is that I respect this “sartorial” choice, much like I can admire a nice pair of athletic shoes on someone else without coveting them. I probably also wouldn’t be as lucky as the gentleman behind the wheel to find such a nice example of one of GM’s best styling efforts of the mid-/late-1970s as what we see here.
This car is a third-year example from the penultimate year of GM’s successfully downsized A-Body coupe from Chevrolet – a clean, simple, handsome design that has withstood the test of time head-and-shoulders above many other styling jobs of its era. It is one of about 57,000 Malibu coupes produced for 1980, out of roughly 278,300 total Malibus, including four-door sedans and wagons (both with their infamous unretractable rear door window glass). As it has been pointed out previously, the enduringly attractive Malibu coupe was handily outsold by the more busily-styled personal luxury Monte Carlo that shared its platform, by a ratio of over 3-to-1 that year. The least expensive 1980 Monte Carlo still cost $157 more in base form ($7,299) than the flossiest two-door Malibu Classic Landau ($7,142).
Allow me to digress for a moment and tell you about the most expensive pair of sneakers that I ever owned. Back when I was in the seventh grade (1986 – ’87), my normally frugal parents allowed me to purchase (read: purchased for me) a pair of Italian Lotto athletic shoes for something like $60 back then. (This figure translates to something like $140 in 2019.) When I think about it, I don’t understand how Mom and Dad even allowed this conversation to happen, given their penchant for buying even house-brand groceries at times.
Maybe my parents felt bad because my face had started to break out and look like a plate of Geno’s pizza rolls. Perhaps it had been a reward for getting as close as I ever got to straight-A’s (five A’s and a C, in Chemistry – why, Mrs. Gloria Lewis??). This purchase did happen, though, and what I remember the most about those shoes is how they made me feel like a complete rock star. They even seemed to buy this awkward, dorky kid a little bit of street cred at Whittier Middle School. These Lottos were to me what Napoleon Dynamite’s moon boots seemed to be to him in that legendary dance scene at the end of that 2004 movie.
Never mind that I didn’t play basketball, soccer, or any sport for that matter. (My Liberian-born father was great at “football”.) Also, disregard that the rest of my clothes were hopelessly outclassed by these white Lottos with green and red accents. The seventh grade me knew in his heart that they were probably the nicest, hippest, dopest pair of shoes he would probably ever own (and he was right). I understand the allure of expensive sports shoes, even if I am also cognizant that my money goes only so far and I have other priorities. (Doing a cursory search on the prices of a new pair of men’s Air Jordans, one pair can go for up to two or three bills.)
In a way, the wheels on this nice Malibu are much like my beloved Lottos that I wore with everything from my baggy Bugle Boy trousers, to my Levi’s jeans and matching jean-jacket (yes, I was that guy), to late ’70s-era hand-me-downs from my older brother. I suppose that others just got used to looking at this lanky, decidedly unsportsman-like kid wearing this really cool pair of sports shoes with anything and everything, even if they didn’t exactly fit the vibe of what else I might have been wearing. As for our featured car, I’d say this Malibu wears these wheels a lot better than I could ever rock a pair of Air Jordans (or another pair of Lottos) in 2019.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017.