I was at the suburban job for about two months before returning to my old company downtown in a new role. The experience taught me a lot about what makes a good job and a good company. Meanwhile, I expanded my commuter shoes theory.
My current (new-old) job is at an urban office full of a very diverse workforce who live all over Chicagoland and commute via public transit. At lunch, there are dozens of nearby places – all within walking distance – and the area is very amenable to head-clearing lunchtime strolls.
Other Company was in a suburban office park. There was an attached parking garage, and (nearly?) everyone drives. (One of the IT interns often had a bike helmet on his desk, but that could have been a red herring.) Schaumburg has a seemingly great network of bike routes, but they don’t connect with Elgin’s nor those of the towns in between, and sometimes end mid-block, answering the question of where the sidewalk ends. My window cube overlooked the forest preserve, and I could watch hawks soaring around, looking for lunch.
However, working at Other Company added a new dynamic to my Commuter Shoes theory. For the uninitiated, my theory of commuter shoes holds that the easier the commute, the more likely you are to wear practical shoes.
When I lived in the city, I took the El to work, which was usually standing room only. Not only were the cars overflowing, but you were pressed up against strangers, and the lightweight cars would sway and jerk violently from side to side, throwing you into your fellow commuters. Yet, despite the difficulty in staying upright and holding your balance (which, with time, became a skill), the majority of the women commuted in impossible shoes – stilettos, tall boots, heels of all flavors, etc. Even in the summer, with a nod to “comfort,” you would see a flotilla of flip-flops, which offer no support for walking any real distance. Yet, women who commute via the El likely walk the most and spend the greater part of their commute standing on their feet than those who commute with other modes.
While making the suburbs to city trek, I commute on Metra. I bought my house in part because it was an easy walk to the Metra station, so I knew I wouldn’t need to drive at all. In fact, nearly half of my 7-minute walk was through the Metra parking lot itself. Probably 95% of my fellow Metra commuters drive to the train. In the morning, everyone gets a seat – though in the evenings, as gas prices have risen, it has become more difficult and strategic to guarantee a seat – and then we walk to our downtown offices. In my case, it’s about 7 minutes on the Chicago end, too. Even so, despite the much more comfortable, seated commute and the reduced walking, most Metra women wear what I termed “commuter shoes” – comfortable sneakers or, increasingly, the new athleisure shoes to carry them through the commute before changing into “work shoes” at the office. (I periodically purge the accumulated shoe collection from under my desk – at one point this spring, I had eleven pairs lined up.)
In an office where everyone drives to and from work and to and from lunch (as there’s very little in walking distance – and I got crazy looks when I walked the 15 minutes to the nearby strip mall for coffee), many women wear comfortable shoes all day. Many never have to step foot outside at all during their commute, yet Nikes seem to be the footwear of choice.
While at Other Company, I usually wore my work shoes (sandals with heels) to and from work. I did discover one important caveat – the grocery stop. Where I don’t pass anything on my Metra commute, while working in the suburban office park, I passed nine, count ‘em, nine grocery stores on my normal route home – more if I deviated from the path. It was great to run in and grab a couple things or heck, even do my full shopping trip for the week – the stores are much less crowded on a Tuesday evening than on a Saturday afternoon. But high heels are not designed for grocery store power-shopping and can be dangerous in the slippery produce aisles. So I threw a pair of old flip-flops in the car to slip on when I need to snag strawberries.
When I made the decision to return to the city – albeit with more opportunities to work at home, or WAH – I happily dusted off my commuter shoes. It’s great to be back, though I’m not looking foward to the icy days ahead.