Starting Out on the Wrong Feet
By Genivieve Adabelle
I was sitting at a cafe in downtown Olympia, listening to a plaid-wearing man in his forties play what I think was a fiddle, and talking to my mother, who had driven down from her Port Townsend home to see me. We had ordered coffee and were waiting for them to be brought to our table.
I few days prior I had gotten off a plane; my head was still caught in a different time zone, and I was painfully new to this funny little city.
Moving to Olympia was something of a whim—things I have a terrible habit of following—and the extent of my knowledge about it here was based almost entirely on a handful of stops made during drives from Seattle down Interstate 5 towards California made when I was small. I knew Olympia was the capital city of Washington, that singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson lived here, and not much else.
On that particular day at the downtown cafe, I was trying to assemble a better sense of things. I was in the middle of moving into my tiny new apartment—settling in with little more than a box of books, a few pillowcases of clothes, and a newly adopted cat for company—and had met only my new nextdoor neighbor. As the woman who had taken my mother’s and my coffee order approached our table, bearing the coffees we had ordered in hand, I observed what I now consider a pinnacle element of Olympia’s character:
Olympia—where servers need not wear shoes.
Allow me to rephrase for emphasis: the server was completely barefoot. There was not even a flip-flop in sight. A toe ring: yes; but not a sock more.
If I am coming across as a stick-in-the-mud-conservative-type over here, please know that is not my intention. I am none of those things, though perhaps that is not for me to judge. All the same, I have never in my life have I been a stickler for “proper” dress, and have, in fact, been known as the one “who never wears shoes” quite a few times in my life. Even still , despite all of this, something about these bare feet bothered me.
“Did you see that?” I hissed to my mother as the server retreated. “Should I call someone?”
Perhaps it was the clear violation of health code, or the business setting, or perhaps the proximity to my coffee, or the amount of toe hair, but I was instantly obsessed with the bareness of this servers feet.
Since then, I have come upon many others with a similar lack of footwear around Olympia. Walking across Red square, through downtown, in the public library and post office—it’s a veritable sea of exposed feet. I would say that this doesn’t bother me, at least not since that first barefoot server, but that would be a lie. It does bother me.
Over the last month, I have been maintaining a tally of those I see sans shoes, which currently bares fifty-two odd marks. Fifty-two marks, each denoting a different person I have encountered around Olympia not including places one might expect to see a bare foot or two. At the park, for example, or in a yoga class.
A tore a phrase out of a magazine a few nights ago and taped it up next to my front door, where I clumsily pull my own shoes on and off each day whenever I enter or leave my apartment. It reads: where ARE your shoes?
I’m trying to figure out this barefootedness: I mean, what is it about Olympia that lends itself to shoelessness more than other places, even other West Coast cities known to be far more alternative than this one? Maybe I will think different after I have lived here for longer, maybe I will one day be cool enough to sit back and casually except being served a coffee by a barefoot server without a second thought, but I am not quite there yet. So, Olympia, forgive me for asking, but where ARE your shoes?