Vans

I spent most of my formative years in a small town in Northern Nevada in the Carson Valley. My parents were born and raised in Los Angeles (yes, L.A. proper), and decided their children would not grow up in the same smoggy place. When I was 4 and my brother was 1, we moved hundreds of miles away from our extended families to Carson City, where we'd live until I turned 10. Then, feeling that even Carson City was becoming too urban for their tastes, my parents, on one of their infamous Sunday Drives, found our next home...a two-bedroom log house on a mini-oasis in the middle of nowhere. It sat on just over an acre of its own. But, that didn't really matter as it was the last house on a dirt road that didn't exist on any map, except maybe the one used by the BLM. We went from a tract home in suburbia to BFE. At 10, this was an adventure. At 13, the shine was off the apple.

By then, I was in middle school. Middle School. I wouldn't repeat that shit if you paid me, let me go back with All I Know Now, or gave me the tits I was so woefully lacking at the time. After racing to feed my horse, I trudged down the dirt road to the bus stop with my fellow ruralites a quarter mile each morning, shaking the alfalfa out of the cuffs of my Chemin de Fer cords, cracked the ice on my not-yet-dry permed hair, and jumped on the yellow school bus to ride the 15 miles to Carson Valley Middle School. CVMS was in downtown. My music teacher had a glass eye. My 6th grade teacher was a shell-shocked Vietnam vet given to throwing one of the difficult kids across the room.

After school, I'd change into my dance clothes (leotard, tights) and walk with my friend, Nikki, down the main drag (Hwy 395) to our dance class. At the time, I didn't understand why two middle school girls, clad in tights and leotards, garnered so many cat calls. I may have been an A-student, but I was still learning how pervy the world was about teenage girls.

The Carson Valley is anchored by two towns, Minden and Gardnerville. In the late 70s/early 80s, it was still a pretty small place. The high school was well under 1,000 students, we had no malls, 1 McDonald's, 1 casino, a lot of sheep and a lot of cattle, and most of the entertainment for the underage involved school sports (Go Tigers!), or Lake Tahoe.

Tahoe has two seasons, winter and summer. In the winter, we skied. In the summer, we pretended that the coarse sand lining the beaches wasn't grinding into our butts as we lathered ourselves in cooking oil, spread out our towels, and worked desperately to achieve sun stroke a tan at 8,000 feet.

The odd thing about our location in this rural teen hell paradise was that, because of Lake Tahoe's revolving door of tourists and the fact that most of us got cable or big-ass-satellite TV by 1980 (bringing the premier of MTV), we weren't as 'culturally deprived' as kids stuck out in the eastern part of the Silver State...in places like Wabuska, Beowawe, or Battle Mountain.

In the early 80s, we were embracing the fashion trends of our hipster neighbors to the west. Why wouldn't we want to hike out to the corrals in our 3-inch heeled clogs, ride our horses to the country store in wrap-around shorts, or ski down The Face in the spring wearing layered Izods, collars up-turned? We didn't care that we lived where there were no sidewalks, even if we did score a strip of pavement every few miles. We embraced the California fashion trends with all the money we'd made off our 4-H lambs at May's livestock auction.

What did that mean to the purveyors of such fashion? It meant that some guy, who must have scored a killer high on his recent trip to Tahoe, evidently got lost in our valley and decided to open a Vans store. Directly. Across the street. From our school. Vans. Custom-made Vans. Across. The. Street. Do you understand what that meant? Holy shit. It was like the messiah had opened up shop and was asking, "Would you like slip-ons or lace-ups?"

This was the time of smiley face shoe laces, rainbows and lightning bolts. OP sweatshirts worn with Gunne Sax skirts and leg warmers. We are talking F-A-S-H-I-O-N. Skateboard decks by Tony Hawk with skulls were carried over sandy roads to that one patch of pavement where a weathered plywood half-pipe threatened to rip apart under the weight of the 90 lb. skaters who'd plowed their BMX bikes through the sandy roads, after racing through their after-school chores.

I will never forget my first (or second) pair of Vans. CVMS's mascot was a tiger cub. This meant our school colors were the flattering duo of orange and black. Our PE uniform consisted of double-knit orange polyester skin-tight shorts and a matching orange t-shirt. It was a stunning look that, I felt, could only be improved upon by my new shoes -- a pair of lace-up, black vamp and heel, orange quarter-ed Vans. I was hot. My shoes were hot. But, I had failed to recall some key information:

The only outfit I owned that coordinated with my new shoes was that road-work-orange PE uniform.

By Christmas, I think I managed to score a black pair of Chemin de Fer baggies that, when coupled with my Lightning Bolt three-quarter sleeved rainbow tee, helped the orange and black Vans look less like billboards and more like footwear. Still, they never got to realize their full potential. And, I'd learned my lesson. My second pair of Vans was a pair of white slip-ons, pierced across the tongue and 'round the opening with rivets for my rainbow shoelaces. I don't recall if I got rainbows, clouds or checkerboard on the foxing or if I just Bug them on with the ballpoint pen I kept in my Trapper Keeper.

I don't remember when the Vans store closed. I'm not sure anyone even noticed. We had moved on to Keds and K-swiss by then.