Sunday, February 04, 2001

Aw shucks, they can't away our Chucks!

        Last week, Converse filed for Chapter 11. It announced it would no longer make sneakers, at least not in this half of the world. It turned its brand name and licensing over to a California company. The sneakers with the star would be made in Asia, like everything else.

        No more Chucks.

        I remember Chucks. If you are of a certain age you, too, remember Chucks.

        Chucks were not just shoes They were a fashion statement, the first sneaker to hold that distinction. Nike wanted to be Chuck when he grew up. If Reebok ever messed with Chuck, Chuck would crush him like a grape.

        No air-cushioned insoles, no pump gimmicks, no stripes garishly slashsing the leather, making it look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

        None of that. Chucks were canvas, rubber and glue. Chucks were a manly sneaker.

        First day of school, sixth grade Bethesda Elementary: Had my brand new, just-out-of-the-box black low-cuts, cruising across the playground like the good Lord invented me to define cool.

        I'd ditched my little-kids Keds. I scoffed at the squares in their PF Flyers. Don't be comin' 'round here in your Jack Purcells.

        For the sixth-grade class picture my girlfriend, the lovely Karen Frey, wore high-top whites and a dress. Cool.

        I switched styles over the years. I went black high-top. I went white high-top. When I became a mature ladies man at 15, I switched to the subdued pleasure of Carolina blue low-cuts, with white laces. I was strollin'.

        But I never changed brands. I didn't need no stinkin' Air Jordans.

        As I said, those of a certain age know what I'm talking about. Skip Prosser knows. The estimable Xavier basketball coach bought high-top blacks and cut them with a knife to just above the ankle. Why? It was the style. The first team Mr. Prosser coached wore white low-cuts, with orange laces.

        Steve Wolf knows. The former XU player had two pairs, always: An inside pair and an outside pair. He practiced and played games wearing the former; he kicked around with his friends in the latter.

        When Adidas showed up with its little, green-striped girly-man sneakers, Mr. Wolf drew green stripes on his white low-cuts.

        “When you put new laces in them, they looked terrible,” Mr. Wolf recalls. “But my mom just threw 'em in the washing machine and everything was OK.”

        I remember that. I remember the just-washed rubber soles stopping me so fast, I nearly flew out of my Chucks like the Road Runner.

        Chuck Taylor, a k a Chuck, was born near Columbus, Ind., in 1901. He was 20 when he hit upon his true purpose in life: spreading the gospel of All Stars.

        Chuck drove all over the country in his Cadillac, playing golf every day, giving basketball clinics and selling shoes. He was so good , the company put his autograph on the star patch on the ankle. And so, Chucks were born.

        Converse claims to have sold 575 million pairs of All Stars since their introduction in 1917. The company Web site allows that Chucks are “favored by fashionable urbanites, alternative music fans, young women and baby boomer men.”

        Andy Roth, CEO of Janell Concrete, has 20 pairs. Six months ago, he cleaned out the stash of size 11, white low-cuts at Foot Locker in Kenwood Towne Centre.“They're hard to find,” he says. “I love the simplicity of them. Mr. Roth goes through a pair of Chucks every six months.

        He got me so excited, I went to Foot Locker. I wanted a pair of white low-cuts. They didn't have any in my size.

        “What are we going to do?” I asked Skip Prosser.

        “I don't know,” he said. “I got other problems.”


        Contact Paul Daugherty at (513) 768-8454; fax: 768-8330.


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