My go-to boots these days are a pair of Justin ropers. They’re over fifteen years old, as battered and weathered as an old baseball glove, and about the same color. I think of them as my lucky boots.
For a long time, I felt too shy to wear such rugged, prosaic boots unless I was actually out in the country, hiking around, or just relaxing on a remote porch somewhere. My own work has been more of the sitting-at-a-desk variety, and it just felt wrong to wear these boots to an office.
But lately, that’s started to change.
To most people, the ropers register as “cowboy boots.” But the boots’ toes aren’t as pointed, they lack the fancy tooling, and their shanks are shorter than a traditional cowboy boot. The name, roper, comes from roping cattle. They’re work boots: The kind you’d wear during a cattle drive. Some might call them Wellingtons.
Not that I’ve ever worn them on a cattle drive. I can barely sit on a horse without falling off, and I wouldn’t know how to begin roping a steer.
The boots first called to me from a shelf in a boot store in Monterey. I bought them on a whim, thinking I needed cowboy boots for some crazy, now-forgotten reason, but knowing that this was the only pair I could actually pull off. There was no way I was going to be able to wear a snakeskin boot, or a fancy wingtip-styled cowboy boot, or something black and red and dangerous, without laughing at the ridiculousness of it. These boots were straightforward, honest, unpretentious.
In a similar way, a few years before, I’d been shopping for a wedding band, for me, with my wife. In the end I shot down the shinier, flashier rings, in favor of a simple, understated gold band. It’s got some colors in it, but they’re subtle, and you have to look closely to see them. These boots, in the same way, don’t announce themselves. They wait for you to notice them.
And most of all, they are comfortable. The way the slide on and just hold on to my feet, not too hard and not too loose: It’s almost like wearing slippers.
While I didn’t wear them to work, I wore them on weekends and vacations. I wore them camping. Wore them walking the dog. Wore them one summer while trekking through the high grasses and brush in the hills around Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard, where my wife was helping build a studio for Mrs. Coppola. We never met either of our famous hosts. But our dog, we heard, got along well with the Coppolas’ dog.
I wore them on the high Carrizo Plain of California, as remote and undeveloped a national park as you can find. I wore them hiking in the coastal hills above Santa Cruz.
For years, I took them out and wore them to work only on rare occasions, when I felt ready to deflect whatever “cowboy” questions I might get.
But recently, these boots, as weathered and comfortable and relaxed as they are, have been my go-to boots, even for work. I wear them with a pair of shrink-to-fit Levis, and a dress shirt. They’re not great for walking long distances, but they’re as comfortable can be for a day at a desk, or a day of meetings.
All those miles I put into them when I was by myself, or just with my wife: Those miles have left their mark. They’ve worn off the shine and left scratches in the leather. They’ve made the boots fit as well as anything I’ve ever had on my feet.
The result, it seems, is that the boots are paying me back for all the time I put into them. I care less what other people think these days, anyway. But the boots give me a little edge — a little extra boost in my day.
I might stand a little taller. I might talk a little more confidently. And, some days, that’s all the luck you need.