For starters, you learn not to make eye contact with anyone after bars close, or risk being put in a bear hug by a drunk guy weeping about his wayward girlfriend. You determine which microwaved leftovers work at 4 a.m., and which ones, well, don’t. You discover that your system can’t tolerate more than three nightly cups of Lipton black tea.
And perhaps most importantly, you figure out ways to keep your mind occupied so you don’t think too closely about the hours you’re keeping.
To keep myself engaged, I used to watch a lot of ESPN and CNN, mixing in a Canadian show called Degrassi, featuring a young, relatively upbeat Drake. But when it hit about 4:30 a.m. and I couldn’t bear another episode of SportsCenter, I defaulted to a high school standby: music videos.
It turns out if you stay up late enough, MTV2 plays a few hours of videos each night, resembling what MTV used to be in its glory days. Those four- or five-minute increments were the perfect way to inch closer to daybreak, so I didn’t mind that they played the same videos every single night. Besides, all of their staples — Usher’s “Burn,” Hoobastank’s “The Reason,” Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” — seemed to fit the overnight vibe.
Without a doubt, my favorite video back then was Kanye West’s “All Falls Down,” which featured our hero trailing sundressed love interest Stacey Dash through an airport while wearing Air Jordan VII Raptors. (It would appear the Raptors were popular with guys known for iconic shrugs.) It wasn’t the Kanye song that best represented my situation — that would be “Spaceship” — but something about it spoke to me regardless.
And when you’re a guy sitting alone in a windowless office in the middle of the night, you take what you can get.
Much like certain songs have the ability to teleport us back to specific periods when they were relevant for us, our favorite sneakers possess that same time machine quality. It’s not even so much about the shoes themselves, or even what Jordan did in them, but rather the experiences we had and who we were while we wore them.
I feel like this is continually overlooked about our hobby, even by many who partake in it: Once you cut through the hype and frustration, the most rewarding thing about our shoes is the stories they tell, instilled by the simple act of wearing them during the indelible moments of our lives.
By the time the Raptor VII’s retroed back in fall 2012, my situation had dramatically improved. My scheme of staying up all night to get my foot in the door had eventually paid off with increased responsibility and mostly daytime hours. Far more importantly, it was exactly three weeks before I would get married to my dream girl.
The scars from the overnight year remained, of course. Unlike the Concord XI’s I wore to my wedding, the Raptors served to represent a difficult period of my life I would never, ever want to go back to.
And yet, I still decided to buy a pair.
I tend to think that to genuinely appreciate where you’re at, you always have to keep in mind what you had to go through to get there. The farther removed I am from all those nights taking the subway at 1 a.m. in the dead of winter, the less real it seems. The Raptors serve as a wearable reminder to remain focused, and tell me if I can get through a year of that, I can do anything I set my mind to.
Not bad for a little nubuck and rubber.
All that said, more than two years after I bought the Raptors, I still haven’t actually brought myself to put them on.
It’s not that I’m intentionally hoarding them; I’m a proponent of actually wearing the sneakers I buy. But given what these symbolize for me, it’s tough to imagine lacing them up for the first time to go to Stop and Shop or something. It has to be special, and I do have a specific day in mind. We’ll see how it goes.
Because if I’ve learned anything from the past decade, it’s that no matter how long or bleak a chapter of your life may be, you always have the opportunity to turn the page.