As a polymath and culture hound, the sneaker game presents yet another abyss to spiral down. I use the word abyss for a couple reasons; first, it truly has no end, no bottom, or anything to distinguish relative progress. Sure, there is a collection, but just like any collection, things come and go, and unless you have enough space or are a hoarder, your collection is merely a glimpse into your own specific fetishes. Second, the deeper you get, the less perspective you have on the totality of your experience. There might have been a beginning when you were 10 years old and your mom didn’t buy you those Jordans at a bargain price which can now fund a semester of college, but there certainly seems to be no end now that you can afford to buy your fucking shoes.
Of course, the game is not just about having the snickers. Status is an obvious motivator, but for many sneakerheads like me, it’s about the struggle. It’s about having war-stories about copping drops before the internet and finding gems like cobalt foams at your local Ross dress-for-less. Afterall, it’s the stories that will live on beyond the yellowed icy bottoms, cracked paint, and disintegrating soles. Stories about waiting in line overnight to snag a limited release; Nike SB Dunk High 420 "Cheech & Chong" only 420 made ever. Stories about finding deals; NIB Mambacurials Size 9 with the extra 30% off for fifty bucks at the San Leandro clearance store. Stories that you can share with your kids if you ever get a girlfriend. In the meantime, these stories are pure gold—to pass the hours waiting in line with your fellow sneaker aficionados.
The line on a release day is also a special beast, a hypebeast so to speak. At most retailers, there is a single line for a highly contested release, a line for raffle winners. Yes, like the lottery, not everyone's a winner in the sneaker game. Even the large retailers like Footlocker use a lottery system to dole out the precious few pairs of an anticipated hypebeast-musthave. Those who stand in this line, like Violet Beauregarde, have smug grins that stretch across their greedy little faces. They parade their pairs the length of the other line, if it exists, the line for the have-nots.
This is the First-Come-First-Served Line. This is the line you stand in when you’ve failed to cop your pair online because Finish Line crashed, lost the raffle (or didn’t know raffles for shoes was actually a thing), or was just lazy then realized that you actually wanted to drop two bills on a pair of athletic shoes not made for actual use in sport. The chance to “pay retail” for a celebrated release is a badge of honor, and is, for some, the only way to make sense of the addiction. Like the true addicts, sometimes you buy and sell to fuel the addiction, while also using your supply to show your true prowess in the game while standing in line on a release day.
When you drive a brand new car off the lot, it instantly loses value. In the sneaker game this is called “on-feet.” It is the point they are no longer “deadstock” though there is no real odometer that can say otherwise. Still, if you can cop that extra pair to flip for sometimes up to 3 times the retail price on the same day a shoe is released, you feel far less bad about driving your shoes off the lot. Seems easy enough, win the lottery twice, drop cash on two pairs, sell one, and get your pair “free.” That’s the chase, and the chase is truly enticing.
Of course, sometimes you cop 3 pairs of a prominent release only to find that Nike decided to really pull out the stops on production. Now you have 3 pairs of a shoe that is showing up at Ross, where some dude is freaking his shit like a forty-niner during the gold rush. It’s cool though, again it’s not about the shoes, it’s about the cool stories bro.
At the end of my seven hours, cold, tired, bladder full, waiting in the fumes of human excrement on Market Street in front of the Sheik answering for the 100th time why you’re standing in line, I realized that I didn’t just want these fucking shoes because they’re the fucking coolest shoes I will put into a clear plastic box and never wear, I also wanted the thrill of the hunt. And that I got, I met a bunch of dudes of all ages, races, and creeds, was regaled with stories of victory, defeat, sadness, and elation, and ultimately had one of my own.