The Story of How Juneau Ate My Boots

THIS WEEKEND, I’m returning to Juneau for the third annual Alaska Robotics Mini-Con, on Saturday April 28!

I’ll also be on a panel at 1 p.m., talking about publishing. I hope you will attend, if you are in or near Juneau!

In addition to the convention, I’ll also be attending Comics Camp.

I wrote about Comics Camp back in 2016. It was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to returning to the woods. The whole family is coming this time! (Except the cats. Sorry, cats.)

That last visit was my first time to Juneau (or Alaska in general) and I found the town lovely and full of interesting people.

I found out for myself when my boots fell apart.

I live in Los Angeles. We have occasional inclement weather, but I’m rarely trekking through mud or snow. So when the time came to pack for camp in the Alaskan forest, I decided to bring a pair of boots.

I’m not entirely sure where I got these boots. I’ve had them for at least a decade. They just appeared in my closet one day — I honestly don’t know where they came from. I don’t think I ever bought them. They fit well with my flight suit, back when I was flying a lot, so I kept them, and thought of them fondly even when I never wore them.

It seemed like camping in Alaska was the time for the boots to shine, considering I owned no other footwear that could remotely be considered appropriate for trekking though tundra.

So, I tied them tight and headed to the airport.

My mistake became clear within about six hours.

I was walking around in Juneau on the Friday afternoon before the convention, when I noticed a big weird black flake on the ground.

Then another, and another.

“Hmm,” I thought, “that’s quite strange! Is it a Juneau…bark parasite, maybe?”

No, it was the top layer of my boots coming off.

Whatever that smooth coating is, having now been subjected to flexing and bending the likes of which it hadn’t seen in a long, lonely decade, was coming off in sheets like my back skin after a beach day.

“Huh,” I thought. I took the picture above to send to my wife. (Unfortunately I didn’t have the presence of mind to take further pictures of the adventure to come.)

Within another hour, it was clear that these boots had been holding themselves together by sheer force of will. The rubber soles were now beginning to separate from the canvas boot body at the toe and at the heel.

“Perhaps I should address this somehow,” I thought.

I checked out a few shoe stores in downtown Juneau, but I wasn’t ready to give up on the comfy ol’ boots just yet. Have you ever tried breaking in a new pair of shoes on a convention trip? I have had to do it twice, and it ain’t a picnic — much less a camping trip.

“I believe in you, boots,” I told my boots, and they cracked a big, wide grin in return, which was a concern.

By Saturday morning I knew I had a real problem on my hands.

By then, both soles had more than half separated, and were waggling off the bottom as I walked, like a clown’s flip-flops.

I had a few hours before the convention was set to start, so I headed for a store, any store, to buy some contact cement, or superglue, or anything that might hold my shoes together.

Because not only was I about to stand all day at a convention… Then, I would be boarding a bus for camp, and I would be at camp for three days.

I did not relish the prospect of having completely destroyed shoes in a scenario where the only way to fix or replace them would involve, like, bears.

But, I soon found out, it was 9 a.m. on a Saturday! And so everything in downtown Juneau was closed!

I couldn’t linger around, waiting leisurely outside a True Value for the start of business to arrive like the tardy winter sun; I had to go build my booth before the convention started!

So I returned to the center where the con was being held, and made a quick survey of my fellow exhibitors.

Luckily, I found someone with (brightly-colored, as it turned out) duct tape — and not a moment too soon, as one of the soles by that point had completely separated from the canvas material of the boot, leaving a weird sock-shaped foot-sheath behind.

A boot looks weird without any sort of sole.

I was in no mood to be picky. I wrapped both boots with pink and green duct tape, up over the toe and back under the sole — over the laces, even, because who cared.

I needed these shoes to stay together, at least for the day. If I had to reapply more neon duct tape in the morning, by God, I would do it.

And so thus passed the first half of the day. My shoes stayed bound to my feet, and my soles stayed bound to my shoes.

All was going well enough; I was passing the day having pleasant conversations with the locals.

One thing I like about the Juneau show is that a lot of people stop by because it is A Civic Event Happening That Day.

In smaller towns, you see that frequently — and it’s great for introducing new folks to what you’re doing.

In this way, I met a fellow whose name I did not catch, but whom I later learned was probably called John. John and I made small talk as he looked at my table.

“Just came over from work to see what was going on in here,” he said, or something like that (I’m paraphrasing).

“Oh, cool. What do you do?” I replied. or something like that.

“I’m a cobbler,” said John. “I have a shoe repair shop about a block away.”

In that instant, it was like the air turned to crystal around me.

Suddenly, the world made sense again.

“John,” I could not possibly have said because I didn’t actually know his name, “would you be willing to take a look at my boots?”

He agreed. I peeled off the tape and showed him one of the boots.

“Needs to be re-stitched,” he said.

“What are the chances you would be able to do that today?” I asked.

“Can you pick it up Monday?”

“We’re leaving straight from here to camp,” I said. “It’d have to be this afternoon.”

John considered this. “Okay,” he said.

I took off the other shoe, then.

“Oh. Both shoes,” he said. “Wow.”

“It’s all or nothing at this booth.”

“Fifty bucks,” he said.

I agreed.

“Plus…a delivery fee, for bringing them back,” he added.

What could I say?

I gave him my shoes.

For the next few hours I manned the booth barefoot, carefully scanning the crowd to see if John would reappear. As the hour of the convention’s closing drew closer, I began to grow increasingly nervous.

What if John didn’t return? What if I had foolishly traded terrible shoes for no shoes at all??

At five o’clock, the convention ended. People started filing out. We were instructed to begin breaking down our tables, in preparation to get on the bus at six.

I rushed to the door where volunteers were seeing the attendees out.

“I’m expecting someone to come back with my shoes,” I said. “Please let him in!”

The volunteer nodded, as if this were a normal thing in Juneau.

About ten minutes before we were to leave, John finally did show up with my shoes. He was escorted over to my table.

He gave some explanation of the exact repairs he did, I can’t remember the details. The upshot of it was that he stitched the soles to the canvas in a way that (I imagine) will now last a hundred years.

I gratefully paid him, and donned my newly-repaired shoes. They seemed more durable and rugged than they’d ever been. These soles would never come loose — it would take an ox to break these stitches.

And oxen are not native to Alaska.

I told this story to several Juneau locals, and they all seemed to think they knew who it was (John, of course). I counted myself lucky to have gotten such prompt service — and gotten them delivered, to boot.

Thank you, John, for rescuing my terrible shoes.

I may even wear them again this year.

I guess they just needed to be…rebooted.

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