Jul 192011
Authors: Jesse Benn

I used to spend money on shoes. And now, as I look down at my dusty old Nikes, I can’t help but chuckle. They are FUBAR: effed up beyond any recognition.

The heel is worn through to the air pockets, causing a squeaking noise with each step. The inside is duct taped to cover the sharp plastic that has become exposed from overuse.

It’s funny –– I used to have shoes that matched specific outfits. But I don’t remember any of those shoes really taking me anywhere.

The shoes I wear now have carried me around New York, over the Brooklyn Bridge and through Central Park. They have strolled through the streets of Old Jerusalem, the beaches of Tel Aviv and the heights of Masada. These shoes have walked me down alleyways in Negril and Quito. They’ve seen the Andes, the Rockies and the Cascades.

And now they’re dusty and dilapidated. I like to think that a little of the dust that covers them is from each of these places. And that maybe some of what’s worn off from their heels was left in each place I’ve walked.

Just as my shoes have traded rubber for dust as they’ve traveled, I’ve picked up and left behind parts of myself along the way. This is why I fell in love with travel in the first place: it transforms you.

There is no coming back from some places. They stay with you, and you with them.

I hold memories of extreme acts of kindness, like the woman in Mexico leaving her line of customers to point me in the right direction. Or there’s the woman who helped me explain to the clerk that I needed Midol for my wife when I couldn’t find the right words in Spanish.

These moments will always be with me.

And while it’s impossible to say for sure, I’d like to think that there are people in each of these places that have their memories of me.

Maybe the indigenous Ecuadorian kids I shared chocolates with remember me, or the older women I gave my seat up to on crowded buses (apparently that’s not common in Ecuador). Perhaps when they hear the word “gringo,” they think of me.

In Negril, maybe our Jamaican friend Mikey walks past the hotel we stayed in and remembers the time he spent with JJ (Jesse and Jessica), showing us around his home on our honeymoon.

Then there is the bond that travel creates between those you travel with. There are the little inside jokes that you had to be there for, like the Orizaba prayer flags (sorry, you had to be there).

And there’s the deeper bond brought about by trusting each other as you venture into the unknown. I can only imagine how much trust it took for Jessica to follow me off that bus in Mexico after we were dropped off on the side of the highway in the dark, only slightly sure we were heading the right way.

These stories and moments may be from international adventures, but with the beauty of Colorado surrounding us, no flight is required; there is plenty to see here. And without our journeys and climbs up, through and around our Rockies, we never would have found the courage to hop on that first flight to Mexico City, sparking this travel bug in the first place.

It’s easy to get comfortable with and forget your surroundings, but to do so living this close to the Rocky Mountains is nothing short of tragic. Within a few hours drive are sights that people travel from around the world to see.

Often, I’ll have friends tell me how lucky I am to have traveled so much in recent years. And as much as I appreciate their sentiment, they’re wrong. You see, I’m not lucky.

I just choose not to spend my money on shoes anymore.

We all spend our money somewhere. Some people blow it at the bars and dispensaries (Hi, students); some drop it on fancy purses (Hey, sister) and others spend it dining out (Hello, brother).

Me, well, I used to blow money on shoes. But as I sit here today, I couldn’t be happier looking down at my dusty, old kicks and thinking about where they’ll go with me next.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major whose middle name is O’Neill. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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