Around Town, Shoes on the Wire

Portland Oregon has roses, North Texas has tumbleweeds, and Vermont has maple trees.  Different places have indigenous treasures for which they are known, and in which they take pride.  Salt Lake, surprisingly, has seagulls, and Philadelphia has tennis shoes hanging from the power lines.
Port Richmond

 Maples and sage brush come from seeds, roses come from the florist, where do these shoes come from? I have heard many answers from all sorts of people but none knew for sure.  I tend to have too much time on my hands and decided to use it to find the answer to this important question.   

Dilson, Maria, and Luis

 Luis, far right-   

“It’s a marking of time.  We always did it with Pro-Keds, that’s what we always wore. You would wear those things till they couldn’t be worn any more.  Once you can’t tape them up anymore, you get new ones, and throw the old ones up on the wire.  We would do it at the hang out, ya know, so we all can see.  I could look up and be like, there’s ’84, there’s ’87.  Man, we can look up and be like I can’t believe I used to fit in those.”  



“That’s to let you know where you can get that stuff.  Ya know, it’s a drug corner.  I thought everyone knew that.  It’s a hot-spot.” 



“They talk about a recession, we been in recession.  We always been poor.  We was all poor and didn’t never get nothin’ new, so when we did get some new shoes we wanted to show them off.  We took our old ones, threw ’em on the wire to let everyone know we had new ones.” 



“It’s nostalgia.  Ya throw ’em up when ya move, to mark where you used to live.  So the folks on the block don’t forget you.”


I always thought the shoes were the work of older brothers playing the ultimate game of keep-a-way on younger siblings.

Oxford and 24th-ish

I got the shoes mark where to buy drugs answer many, many, times.  Once I started walking around and asking people on the street, I noticed something…

There may be many reasons, I may never decide on which ones are true or best, but what should I make of the fact that none of the people who told me the shoes mark drug corners have either bought drugs or thrown shoes up on a wire?


Note- I promised my wife I wouldn’t take my computer on vacation.  See ya in September.

6 thoughts on “Around Town, Shoes on the Wire

  1. I grew up in New York City and this was done all over the city. And the funny thing is that I’ve never even questioned why it was done. I just remember them being there all of my childhood years.

    The drug corner thing doesn’t hold true to me. I saw shoes on power lines everywhere including nice middle-class streets. So it’s unlikely that was the reason.

    I’m more inclined to think that some kid somewhere decided to take his friends shoes and as a joke throw them on a power line. Or maybe it wasn’t a joke. Anyway I would guess that at that point doing this just became a kid-see-kid-do kind of thing. That’s my best guess anyway.

    Enjoy your blogcation.

  2. JB, to the contrary throw ’em up there so we can remember ya. As I insinuated, I think the drug corner stuff is legend, not truth.
    Val, while I agree with you on the meaning of the shoes, I gotta say I know from personal experience that nice middle class neighborhoods have every bit as much drugs as the “hood”.

  3. You know…
    You should get a small digital camera and film some of these posts.
    This seems like a documentary I’d see on Current TV, the Sundance Channel or something.
    (Quite a clever post – enjoy your break)

  4. This is a great post to read! I enjoyed it.
    I think that these shoe sightings are a lot like tags and scribbled graffiti…just random and not much meaning.
    In LA, back in 2003 Mayor Hahn started a task force to remove shoes from all the lines and said they marked “Crack houses” and “Gang territories”. I think this is one of the places the idea comes from that they always represent drug dealer corners. It’s funny how involved he became in the issue of shoes on wires, he had a press conference and everything, even got in a cherry picker and took some shoes down himself.
    By the way, this topic and photos would make an interesting coffee table book.

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