Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana
I’m 33 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, you confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washedness.
I remember exactly where I was when the sneaker game broke me: in my bathroom. The shower was running, steam billowing out, offering a bit of relaxation. I’d just left the gym and was feeling that good endorphin-loaded euphoria. The time was exactly 9:59 a.m. EST. I had my hand on my phone, with Nike’s SNKRS app, which allegedly lets consumers purchase shoes as soon as they are released, at the ready. I wanted to buy the Melody Ehsani Jordan 1 Mids for my wife. (No need for your applause; I know I’m a great husband for loving my wife enough to stay with her despite the fact that she likes mids.)
My eyes were fixed on the little tab by the shoe that said “coming soon.” My plan was simple: Click the tab, go pick my size, check out, and pray that I get a pair. The usual follow-up is heartbreak, in the form of Nike letting me know that the shoe sold out immediately. I was prepared for that heartbreak; I’d just go on about my life. But Nike wasn’t satisfied with simple cruelty. As the clock struck 10:00, the onscreen button changed from “coming soon” to “sold out.” Yes, it totally skipped “available.” I didn’t even get a chance to push the goddamn button to get rejected!
It was like having to watch someone swipe left on your Tinder profile. My endorphins vaporized. My shower water turned cold.
But my phone became a glowing symbol of resolve: I’m pretty sure I’m out of the sneaker game.
Sneaker culture and Black culture are so symbiotic that it’s hard to tell when one starts and the other begins, like trying to separate the milk from the ice cream once a shake is made. Some of the most important moments in Black pop culture are directly tied to sneakers: Run-DMC and Adidas; Jordan and, well, Jordans dominating most of our childhood; and Kanye’s Yeezy explosion as of late. As a result, our love for our culture is often reflected in our love for sneakers.
The convergence of the hoops I have to go through and the lack of f*cking time I have to jump through them has rendered me utterly ineffective as a sneakerhead.
Growing up, most of the sneakers we ever wanted were available in abundance. The problem, at least for me, was that my parents weren’t really keen on dropping $150 for shoes I’d ruin in three weeks. So we spend our adulthoods chasing those shoes and falling in love with new shoes. I spent most of my twenties either going to the mall to get the shoes I want, scouring NikeTalk for the back-alley websites that have sneaky releases, or calling in favors. I feel like most of us were able to wear what we wanted if we worked hard enough — bank accounts pending, of course.
But over the past few years, capitalism has reared its ugly head and made the entire culture just about untenable for anyone with anything resembling a life. Nike has always manipulated the scarcity of its most prized shoes, maximizing the fervor they create; now, though, Nike’s made most of its best kicks virtually uncoppable. The Air Jordan High 85 over All-Star Weekend, for instance, also sold out immediately. Now if we want shoes, we have to play SNKRS app roulette, take part in goddamn raffles (which, no, I’m not joining a raffle to get a chance to pay $200 bucks for a pair of shoes), or buy in the aftermarket on sites like StockX, where the aforementioned Jordan High 85s are going for upwards of $600.
Just this past weekend, the Jordan 1 “Pine Green” came out. And, as usual, I needed to be on my phone at 10 a.m. to make sure I could get a pair. I was busy and forgot to be on the phone at that exact moment. The shoes, of course, sold out. I went to a few nearby stores — and those were all sold out, too. The convergence of the hoops I have to go through and the lack of f*cking time I have to jump through them has rendered me utterly ineffective as a sneakerhead. As a result, I haven’t bought a new pair of non-workout kicks in a year.
What makes it worse is that so many of these shoes are going to the undeserving. Most drops are overrun by people using bots to snipe sneakers at superhuman speeds, only to resell them on StockX for higher prices. These flippers are weeding out people who really are embedded in the culture and want to represent it on their feet. It was a stretch for me to drop $180 on shoes in my twenties, so I can’t imagine how many 23-year-olds can end up with something like Virgil Abloh’s Off-Whites or Jordan 1s that are routinely going for multiples of that on StockX. It makes me worry about the long-term future of the culture.
As for me? I’ll either get rich enough that dropping $1,000 for a shoe that’s an inferior version of the exact same shoe that came out five years ago or I’ll ride off into the sneakerhead sunset with an arsenal of brunch boots on my feet. Either way, I can’t deal with the stress and blood pressure spikes that come with the game as it is. Now, if you’ll pardon me, it’s time to join the choir of old people shaming you for lining up to buy Jordans instead of voting.
Ahhh, I can feel the superiority warming my bones already. It’s nice to have you back, endorphins.