Mortimer Sánchez

These boots were made for shoppin’

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A giant concrete boot, taunting me and my shopping mission along the main street of Cave Creek.

I love boots. Clompin’, trompin’, cowpatty kickin’ Western chic boots! After seeing a couple friends out with their styling pair, I decided it was time I got my own – and make an adventure of it in the process.

I hopped in the ole pick’em-up truck and headed for Scottsdale. OK, a late-model Isuzu, but I’m tryin’ to create a visual here, damn it. I was headed for cowboy country, to wander from town to town in search of the perfect boots.

Tooling up the road, I saw a sign: “Western Days at Westworld.” In my mind, that meant they probably had more boots than a caterpillars’ shoe convention!

I parked, bought my $14 ticket and stood in the quarter-mile line of people waiting to enter a giant tent full of country folk and anachronistic pseudo-hillbillies gone 1880s retro. I was happy to see the Buffalo Soldier contingent there. Still, where were the danged Latinos? Buckaroo’s just some goofy way of sayin’ vaquero, I’ll have you know. Mexicans were the first cowboys around these parts.

Restored horse-drawn carriages and wagons lined one wall. That captured my fancy for a few minutes before I began to stroll the aisles of merchandise. I passed saddles, Western shirts, turquoise jewelry, and samples of log cabin walls. It was while gawking at antler chandeliers and pot-metal sheriff’s badges that I realized, My God! This is what it would look like if the Wild West threw up.

Outside, I spotted a field of tents in the distance. The Confederate Army’s lost battalion had set up camp, maybe? I wandered down to find men leaned into clouds of steam, scientifically stirring over Dutch ovens and pans big as manhole covers. The air was thick with cowboy grub and campfires.

Oh yeah. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. But this food was for a cook-off competition, not for sale. After checking out a few more tents full of cowboy kitsch, I watched a mountain man etching toy guns with a telescope lens before wandering back inside. Then I spotted boots! A whole row of them lined up next to a sign that read “custom-made to fit.”

But they all had laces, flaps, and weird metal buttons. The artisan was going for that “authentic” fur-trapper/buccaneer-pirate look of the 1800s. And Johnny Depp I ain’t. I just wanted simple, cool boots.

I made for the door, got in my truck and threw in a Gordon Lightfoot CD as I headed up the road to Cave Creek.

I rolled into town behind a herd of motorcycles on their weekend migration to higher elevation. A nasty little dust devil was cutting across the field where the Cave Creek Thieves Market operates the first Saturday of every month. Hah! I couldn’t resist. I quickly parked and paid my one dollar to enter and watch the mayhem as vendors scrambled to turn giant tarp kites back into tents in the windy weather. Their flea market almost flew. Still, no boots.

Back along the main drag, shop owners paced about as tourists meandered along the main thoroughfare in search of fancy Western baubles to bring home. Bikers lounged at rustic saloons, while other bars stood quiet until the nightlife came to kick up dust on their plank floors. I flitted from storefront to storefront in search of my quarry, wearing no hat, no sunblock, no sunglasses. I came upon several pockets of open-air vendors, and … wait! What did we have here? A boot store!

I walked into Spirit of the West Boot Co. and perused the finely tooled masterpieces of leather. “We’re having a sale. Look for the red tag,” said the lanky cowpoke of a shopkeeper as he studied me to see if I could afford his product.

Ornate scrollwork and weird knobby leather was everywhere. I touched one of the less obtrusive shoes, and found it soft as suede. I turned to ask what they were made of.

“Hippopotamus,” he stated.

What did a hippo ever do to deserve getting turned into a boot? I turned back to the shop tender. “You got any faux leather boots?”

You ever seen a cowboy eat a pickled lemon? He screwed his face up tight and declared, “I don’t think there’s any boot company that’d make a boot outta fake leather.”

I bet he didn’t know Joaquin Phoenix was wearing plastic cowboy boots in that Johnny Cash biopic. Later, after a few phone calls, I found the shop tender wasn’t so far off the mark. Faux leather cowboy boots are rare – especially men’s boots. Online, I did track down a faux-leather, Dan Post Caiman gator boot before giving up.

Not that any of this matters. When I looked at the little red sale price tags, I saw numbers like $650 and $1,499. I couldn’t afford his product.
I crossed the street and took a photo of a giant concrete boot sculpture for free and sat down at the Silver Spur Saloon to sink my boot sorrows in a pint of ale. The bar had just come under new owners – probably why I waited 20 minutes before anyone asked if I was hungry, thirsty, or a high plains drifter passin’ through town.

I got my beer free for the patience, and held it to my forehead while they cooked me a burger. I’d gotten a headache from squinting in the sun in search of boots – with no sunglasses or hat. By this point, I’d have pranced around with a parasol to avoid any more sun.

The next day, I saw two guys selling cowboy boots off the tailgate of their truck in West Phoenix. Dear lord! I should’ve just gone there. It certainly would have been easier.

I guess I’ll just buy a pair at Sheplers in Scottsdale. Cave Creek’s more about people watchin’ and oglin’ each other’s motorcycles anyway.

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