Monday, February 12, 2007

Why Nike, Why?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a pithy that one comes across every now and then in the South. Apart from generating a few smirks, ribs and the obligatory references from non-Southerners about the trailer-park-dwelling, middle-aged woman with missing front-teeth whose “home” has been ravaged by the recent tornado, it does convey a very human longing for status-quo.

Some may argue that it exemplifies xenophobia or paranoid superstition emanating from a lack of understanding of underlying mechanics. Others blame the behavior for keeping the world in the depths of the dark ages, or highlight it as the key differentiator between “boring traditionalists” who stick with what works and “exciting entrepreneurs” who “boldly go where no one has gone before.” Yet others may pander it very cogently as the distinction between the uptight stodginess of an actuarial and the vibrant spontaneity of a hep youngster (a la PC vs. Mac).

While “change is good” generally stands true, it does incur a certain cost. And sometimes, the cost of a change may be considerable compared to the gain or excitement afforded by the change. Don’t believe me? Try changing your “better halves” on a whim. But I digress. This blog isn’t about changing your significant others (for better or worse).

It is, however, about the brand of sport shoes I like to buy. More exactly, it is about the shoes I’ve been buying for the past three years for playing racquetball. After trying several brands (Reebok, Nike, Adidas, Fila, et al) I came across a pair of Nike Air running shoes that I really liked. These were light enough to allow for running, but sturdy enough to be durable and versatile. Each pair would last me about a year plus, depending on the abuse I hurled at it (and sometimes on myself). They generally wore very well and predictably, maintaining excellent grip all along. The traction was just right for my style of playing: half running, half shuffling-sliding. Overall, I was very pleased with Nike for having made these available at a reasonable price of $39.99. I had been so pleased with these shoes that I had been buying them over and over without even bothering to look for another brand / pair. Thanks Nike, from the bottom of my heart.

Last week, after my game of racquetball, I realized that my feet were taking a beating. And the reason was pretty apparent: the soles and walls of my year-old shoes were beginning to wear from within, creating pressure points that aggravated my feet. So naturally, I found myself heading out to my favorite Nike store to pick up another pair of Nike Air Monarch II

Having performed this routine a few times now, I was on auto-pilot. Entered the store, nodded to the check-out girl, bobbed and weaved through the various displays (totally ignoring the Chicago Bears jerseys at throw-away prices now that they had lost the Super Bowl) towards the shoe racks at the back of the stores, right to the aisle where my favorite size 9 Nike Air are stocked.

“Nike is so cool that they maintain generally the same layout so that I can find what I am looking for really easily”, I was saying to myself, when I was rudely aware that some thing was wrong. I stared at the display shoe in front of me and the words “soccer cleats” bubbled forth from the labyrinths of my brain. “Hmm… okay, they must’ve moved the shoes to another aisle”, I said to myself and started to browse the different aisles.

“Walking.. ehh
“Running… getting warm
“Cross-coutry… warmer
“Traning… warmer still
“Nike Air… bingo!
“WTF!!! Nike Air Monarch III?

I looked at the display again, and then read the box and then examined the shoe again. “What’s with the Monarch III and why do my shoes look different from the ones displayed?” I reproached the air beside me, which insisted on staying obstinately reticent.

Taking heart, I examined the remaining aisles and even the clearance sections only to come back to the disquieting silence next to the Monarch display. As I scanned the boxes at the bottom, I noticed a pair of Nike Air shoes very similar to mine on a pair of feet moving down the aisle almost tracing the path I had just returned from.

“Hi there”, I called out to the person belonging to the shoes.

“Hi”, he responded back.

“Are you looking for Monarch IIs?” I ventured while pointing at my shoes.

“Yeah. I’ve had these for a while and was hoping to get another pair. I see you’re wearing the same ones.”

“Yep I am. I actually went around looking for these and didn’t find them. And these Air Monarch IIIs aren’t exactly the same thing.”

“Ya I saw those too, but was hoping to find what I have on.”

Someone from the Nike staff must’ve heard us and came over to offer help. When posed with the problem of finding newer clones of the shoes we were sporting, he came up with a very (un-) helpful suggestion.

“They’ve been replaced by the Monarch IIIs, which are much better. Why don’t you try those instead? They’re on sale for just $49.99.”
To his and Nike’s credit the shoes did look somewhat similar, but were noticeably different in shape, and distinctly different on sole treads and feel (which were the reasons for the “WTF” to begin with). Nevertheless, I tried on the shoes for a second time and wasn’t too pleased with the fit and feel. Different size, different width (E instead of D) and still the same dissatisfied chagrin. U2 crooned “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” ironically on the store musac (the background “musical accompaniment” that several stores have as part of their shopping experience).

So after a while of trying different styles and sub-brands of running / training shoes (I even went to the Reebok store next door), I came back to the Monarch and bowed in submission, forked out $54.95 and ushered them into my life. I tried to acquaint my feet with the nouveaux royals, but like truant tyros, they have as yet refused to play nice together. A few more sessions on the court and I’m hoping we’ll have “the start of a beautiful friendship”. Otherwise, I hope Nike stands good on its return policy.

Why Nike, why did you have to go about changing the pair that I (and at least one other person in Nashville) liked?


t-hype said...

I feel your pain! I bought a pair of Merrells two years ago that are discontinued. When I went to the store in the mall, they knew nothing about the shoe. I called corporate to find an exact substitute (there isn't one). I ended up just replacing the insoles. 3 weeks and counting...

Um, I think that means you're getting old when you refuse to accept newfangled versions of your favorite things. ;)

kage said...

i knew someone was going to come up with that argument and i already prepared an answer, but for the life of me can't seem to remember now... must be old age ;)

seriously, my disdain has more to do with the fact that my feet feel the difference in the shape of the shoes and the grip on the court. i've played about 10 games so far in them and i still prefer the older, more beat up shoes.

if i still feel that these won't work, it is Rebook DMXs for me...