Funny You Should Ask: Walking in someone else's shoes, so to speak

While I never have had a problem walking a mile or even running one, albeit leisurely, in my own shoes, doing so in someone else's would have been a very different matter, if only because of the blisters.

The metaphor nonetheless is always well-applied when it comes to putting oneself in the position of another during, or in anticipation of, a disagreement.

Cultural assimilation is another way of heading off disagreement, although I didn't think I had entered another culture when I hopped off a small plane outside a small Utah city at the edge of a desert valley nearly 30 years ago.

Although a pilgrimage for someone who had wanted to venture west of the Delaware River, my trip to college seemed simply a trip to a different page of the atlas.

My father thought differently when he visited Cedar City a month or so later and compared it with suburban northern New Jersey, where he grew up and is content to stay.

His eldest son had gone to the middle nowhere, or so he remarked, sarcastically, this man whose business had taken him to the Gaza Strip, the middle of Mexico and South America and enjoyed reflecting on it and, even more, kidding me about my first trip far from home.

To the middle of nowhere, to boot.

He soon started in about boots, cowboy boots, and why I hadn't bought some.

He had long-since purchased pair himself because of visits to field representatives and customers who were in the West, and annual industry meetings in Scottsdale (when Scottsdale seemed, to easterners at least, like the West, before it became the Cote d' Azur of Arizona.).

My first roommate, who was punching cows in northern Nevada while I was trying to figure where Nevada was, wore cowboy boots.

So did other western natives and grew up on ranches or farms, and faculty members when they wore leisure attire.

So did keg-tapping female students, non-native Utahns who grew up as far from a ranch as I did but who felt like joyous homesteaders in that delightful high desert, dancing to Waylon and Willie while kicking … well, you now the George Carlin joke … stuff… into corners.

Eventually, as a journalist, I covered a rodeo or two and interviewed a cowboy or three, everyone from high school riders to pro rodeo hall of famers like Bruce Ford.

For Ford, I did happen to have on western-style work boots, a pair with worn, softly rounded nicked toes which looked liked like they had done their share of corral and fencepost kicking.

In fact, the nicks had come from foot pedal of a spot welder during a temporary stint in a machine shop.

(That pair I purchased in deference to my first wife, a woman who had done some riding and laughed derisively the first time ever I saddled up during our honeymoon - talk about a cold wind on the prairie.)

Otherwise, though, unlike the greenhorn commentators on ESPN2 every year at the National Finals Rodeo in Vegas, I never felt compelled to dress the part at rodeos.

After all, I wasn't covering high school baseball games wearing a flannel uniform or football games wearing shoulder pads and helmet.

This seemingly commonsense – or maybe horse sense – notion nonetheless bemused organizers of the 1996 state high school rodeo finals in Elko, Nev., who said my attendance behooved me to wear a long-sleeved, western-style shirt and western-style hat.

Nothing about boots, though.

My polite reply paralleled what I still say about cowboy boots - that I don't wear them because I am not a cowboy, and that my doing so would be a disservice to those who legitimately can say they are, by livelihood or avocation, but in either case people who have paid their dues by sculpting their thighs and buttocks in the saddle or nicking their hands and forearms stringing a barbed wire fence line during a storm.

Though not always reticent about protocol, I've shied from fashion because I've been independent-minded my adult life, like, ironically, cowboys, a group I will simply let be.

Except to tip my longneck and say, cowboys and cowgirls, from this greenhorn, this (pick your brew) is for you.