The state of sneaker resale has grown to such epic proportions that it feels like a Michael Bay summer blockbuster where the digitized and sassy robots have been replaced by identical twin monsters that stalk the concrete like rubber anacondas from brands like Nike, ASICS, New Balance and others. I’ve got a ton of vices, but sneakers aren’t one of them. The numbers would suggest that while smoking and drinking take up the time and money of many people, the footwear game accounts for $14 billion dollars worth of annual sales for a large population of sartorial sneaker junkies. As we know, when there’s demand for a product, the prices inevitably skyrocket creating a subculture where acquisition is purely financial and has little to do with personal usability.
It was a Thursday when Highsnob Art Director, Luis Ruano, and I were perusing eBay looking for inspiration when the prices for the sneakers really caught my attention. I’ve been playing in the “hype” space for several years now, but I never sought out actual price points because I never had aspirations for the “limited” and hard to purchase items.
“How much would they go for if they weren’t hyped up?” I asked, referring to a pair of Nike LeBron 9’s as part of his “Championship” pack that were going for $4,500.
In a blur we were staring at the Yeezy’s – a sneaker as recognizable at this point in popular culture as Charlie Chaplain’s mustache or Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat. Are the Yeezy’s worth $2,500 dollars? Obviously, the answer is “yes” because there were several bidders, but the thought of paying a 1985 Datsun price for them seemed ridiculous. I asked Luis, “Come on, this is too much,” to which he agreed. “Do you know how much fun we could have for that much loot?” And with that, the wheels started to turn. What better place to illustrate the idea of “excess” than in the City of Sin. The mission: to have as much fun for the amount of money it would cost to purchase a pair of Kanye West’s signature shoe.
Under the perpetual sun pumped through smog-laden atmosphere in Los Angeles, the Lexus IS 350 F Sport looked like a sleek trophy with black placard for some fictitious award given out for precise lines and a demure purr that would make Eartha Kitt proud. To someone like me, the anti-car guy, she was prom-date beautiful and certainly a chariot befitting the 264.8-mile journey from the City of Angels to a place where they all go to die. You can wear a pair of shoes, but you can live comfortably inside the F Sport. It would have to be comfortable, as we turned a mere 3.5-hour drive into a nine-hour odyssey with frequent stops along an interstate that had the distinct smell of Chivas Regal and Wild Turkey – the favored drink of none other than Hunter S. Thompson. I remember thinking, in this case, the S. in our little Vegas plan stood for “sneakers.”
Journalists who visited Thompson at his cabin discovered that it was fatal to try and drink with him. Thompson’s biographer E Jean Carroll described his routine: “3pm rise. 3.05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills. 3.45 cocaine. 3.50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill. 4.15 cocaine. 4.54 cocaine. 5.05 cocaine… 9pm starts snorting cocaine seriously. 10pm drops acid. 11pm Chartreuse, cocaine, grass. 11.30 cocaine, etc, etc… 12.05 to 6am Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies.
The stop in Barstow was one that was planned, although we were unsure of where to pull over or really anything to do in the 40-square-mile town of 23,000 residents. Admittedly, it was a thrill to enter the town where the aforementioned Gonzo journalist wrote the lines, “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” While this experience cost little in the way of tangible money, setting foot there was a dream come true. We were greeted by the sound of thunder, a sound rarely heard in Los Angeles. I felt like it was a sign. A belch or gunshot from a hero of mine.
With every exit taken we were greeted with more and more outlets for stores like Nike and G.H. Bass as our onboard digital navigator reminded us that we were still 150 miles from our destination. I was beginning to fear that the town of Barstow wasn’t going to produce anything of merit, so I decided to put together a calculated search on my iPhone: strange, gonzo places near Barstow. We were intrigued by the notion of the “World’s Largest Thermometer,” but settled on a trek to something called the Calico Ghost Town. After passing a sign the size of telephone pole with a cheery cowboy on it holding a shovel, I knew we were getting close, but when the GPS instructed that we had reached our supposed destination, there was absolutely nothing around except for a few trailers that looked like they were still using the P2P cook that Walter White and Jesse Pinkman had long since abandoned. It wasn’t until we pulled over on tires that crunched and snacked on the arid and gravel-laden terrain that we looked into the distance and saw the name “Calico” pressed into a nearby mountain with stones that looked like Dipping Dots that you could get at the movie theater in the ’90s. At the base was a town – sheepishly ransacked by a group of renegade artists looking to turn everything into a palomino beige monstrosity.
Officially, Calico is a refurbished work by Walter Knott from the 1950s meant to replicate an 1881 silver mining town and is recognized as an official California landmark. Surprisingly, the place was packed with tourists despite the ever-worsening conditions and the perpetual gloom the darkening clouds suggested. Although the town was a recreation, the women who ushered us to the parking area insisted we check out the very real graveyard. Calico had the distinct feel of a pair of stained pants that a person had sentimental attraction to and would never be able to toss them in the garbage despite the imperfection. An antique train rumbled around the periphery as Luis and I ventured deep in “town” where signs for the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker made it seem like we were playing a cowboy version of Clue.
The F Sport cruised down the interstate as a mixture of Jay Z, Deltron 3030 and CCR pumped out of the speakers. A quick check of the current bid of the Yeezy’s indicated that the ante had been upped another 50 bucks. With every mile traveled, another nail was being put into the resale coffin. The current price point – if measured in miles – could get us somewhere around Nashville.
Normally, when you see a lonely blue sign poking out of the desert landscape, it’s either to watch a trio of men perform a stage show, or it’s offering some kind of wacky medical procedure (truth be told, we actually saw a sign advertising a no-needle vasectomy). When Luis launched a finger that traveled across my periphery like a scud missile and pointed to something that read “Mad Greek Cafe,” I knew he meant business. You see, Luis was “off” carbs but the lure of a world renowned gyros had us heading toward Baker, California. Sure, Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives had been there first, but we couldn’t let a plump jalapeno popper of a chef with backwards sunglasses and bleached blonde hair ruin the chance at a piece of properly slaughtered and prepared piece of lamb. Everyone knows that desert lamb is the most succulent.
The Mad Greek Cafe proudly sported numerous Greek flags around the exterior, but the American flag was the most prominent stage piece and flapped proudly in the dry heat. Entering the restaurant was like taking large and direct steps into a funeral parlor where the deceased had requested a lively and colorful party as opposed to the more solemn approach. People sucked away at drinks through straws as we peered up at the immense menus that offered a special piece of advice: gyros is pronounced “yeer-oh.”
“Two please, one no onion, one no tomato.”
Limited edition gyros…now that’s a way to live.
The thunder and lightning eventually went from boastful showmanship to actual rain just as we had hopped out of the car to snap a few pictures of a roller coaster that seemed to pop out of the ground as if a metal sunflower. You come to realize that the landscape that leads to Vegas is made by hand, not by Mother Earth. We were getting close. The money spent up until this point hadn’t burned a hole in our pocket, but I knew Vegas was like gasoline.
Take away the bright lights of Las Vegas, and you still know you’re getting close to the cultural mecca of sin. The gravitational pull is the same unknown force that lures married men into the champagne room. It was nearing 8:30 p.m. when we hit the strip – close to nine hours after we had originally left LA. It’s never a good sign when you pull into Las Vegas already feeling fatigued because it has been known to turn even the most vibrant individuals into puddles of muck.
A couple-hundred-dollar-swipe of a credit card gets you into any hotel room in Vegas that doesn’t look like it could accommodate a Real World cast or figure prominently into the setting of The Hangover. Normally, you’re looking for a room that has a nice view of the Strip – perhaps panoramic – but on account of the short notice we’d have to settle for a flop house at New York-New York where the window looked out at the treble clef of the yellow roller coaster, and sounds of thrilled passengers who screamed at the top of their lungs frequently made me feel like I was getting applauded every time I pissed out some cheap beer we bought at the hotel commissary. I consider myself the kidult of hotel bathrooms.
You think the allure of gambling is silly until you step off the elevator and are met with sounds reminiscent of a grandfather rifling around in his cotton trousers for a handful of quarters. Now imagine that feeling of free money and auditory overload to the infinite degree – and that’s just Vegas on a regular Sunday night – void of the electricity surrounding March Madness or a prize fight. Poof… someone just lit a match and the smell of burning currency isn’t a pleasant one.
Nothing softens the blow of pilfered green like the runny and succulent yellow that comes from a sunny-side-up egg from a breakfast joint off the strip. The Egg & I, as described to us by our Scottish cab driver, was the original gangster in a trio of like-minded joints intent on returning a warmth to your gullet that had been extinguished from a long night of drinking and poisoned gaming tables. In a matter of moments we were presented a skillet of piping hot potatoes, bacon, onion and eggs that served as a proper tribute to the gaming gods out in Vegas. This bite’s for you, Bugsy.
There’s a sensation that occurs in Las Vegas that I never encounter anywhere else I travel. Much like a mirage promises weary travelers in the desert a cool drink of water, the Strip always makes it seem like everything is but a quick two-block-walk away. The buildings are so massive that I always find myself walking instead of taking a cab. What to the eyes seems like ten minutes turns into an hour – knocked off track by slot machines at every corner, the constant thwack of tiny people smacking pornographic cards in your face, and the need to stop for a drink of water at a pharmacy promising 24-hour clinic services. When you’re outside, you have direction. It’s when you’re inside that you have no idea where out or up is. Hours are lost. Money disappears not on memories a person will have for a lifetime, but in 20-dollar increments.
At the outset of the trip I couldn’t fathom spending several thousands of dollars for a shoe, but with a grand already blown on food, transportation and lodging, the idea of getting something you covet and locking it away for safekeeping sounded like a terrific idea. Shoes themselves are temporary items, but actually getting something you tirelessly long for is a sensation that is as universal as feeling all alone despite being surrounded by thousands of sweaty folks. Vegas was winning… the Yeezy’s were nearing three stacks…and the kidult in me needed tending to.
Walking into NOBU at Caesar’s Palace for a planned dinner amongst industry folks and colleagues who I knew only by name and email address felt like dropping the perfect checker in Connect Four that assured that winning was guaranteed no matter how your opponent looked at it. Seated all around me were various movers and shakers who offered well-time quips as the wait staff glided around the room in black attire serving as hospitable tour guides into the world of raw delights. Designed by David Rockwell, bowed columns of bamboo lined the exterior of the restaurant to resemble the structure of a traditional Japanese ikebana basket used in the art of flower arranging.
The meal wasn’t pick and choose, it was placed on the tables for the hundred in attendance as if a sacrifice to the gods of streetwear. There was a tiny monkfish puree with caviar perched on top that was to be eaten with a tiny Japanese fruit. Next was the salad course full of bits of yellowtail sashimi. Then came the Sashimi Moriawase, followed by a procession of lobster tails that knew little about twerking, but still went down smoothly. The meal was finished with plate after plate of A5 Wagyu beef which quite honestly was the finest cut of red meat I’ve had in my life. With a belly full of food and quite a bit of Sapporo and sake, the night was just getting started.
The cab line outside of Caesar’s Palace looked like a well-dressed and slightly older crowd you’d see camping outside of Supreme on Fairfax in Los Angeles. The demand was there, but the valet didn’t seem to be capable of roping in enough cabs to get people out of there in a timely manner. In Las Vegas there’s always an answer to a problem – a Wolf-type character from Pulp Fiction of sorts – so with the ease of wagging my hand, team Highsnob had ourselves a stretch Hummer limo. It suddenly felt like streetwear prom.
After a quick stop at the liquor store where I grabbed a starburst-esque assortment of booze – from Old English to Tecate to Modelo to a Four Loko for the lady – we ventured to Fremont Street in downtown Vegas where people from dinner had assembled at the Vanguard Lounge.
From the outdoor terrace you got a sense of Vegas the place, not Vegas the spectacle. The neon lights from the El Cortez shined brightly as the drinks continued. This is what the standing eight-count feels like when the referee is administering it to a boxer. You’re out on your feet but you’re too helpless to keel over. Luis could sense that I was KO’d so we proceeded outside and grabbed a cab. Our driver was in a festive mood – chatty like most of the cabbies who had seen way too much. He knew we were going to New York-New York, but I questioned how much it would take him to actually drive us to New York. He laughed. We settled for the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign instead. The trip was almost over. The eBay bid was closed. The proud new owner of the Yeezy’s and I had something in common – relief.
It wasn’t until a week later that I got curious who ended up with the Yeezy’s. I figured it might be good to connect with them to get an insight on what fuels a person who seeks solace in the sanctity of a flawless sneaker. I wouldn’t have to dig too deep.
Luis Ruano, my Dr. Gonzo on this fateful excursion, had been the one to act. He saw a good opportunity and swooped in like the bats that plague Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. We were back in business.
Alec Banks can be found at @smart_alec_.
Luis Ruano can be found at @luis_ruano.