Barefoot Tales: putting my foot down

  Standing on glass with impunity I have become entirely convinced over the years that the common prejudice against not wearing shoes in various public settings is nothing more than that, just outdated social stigma and groundless discrimination.  Nowadays the numerous health benefits of going barefoot are well known, and the internet has allowed people experienced in the shoeless lifestyle to communicate with a wider audience.  Personally I've been mostly barefoot since 1980 or so, including in all my places of employment, over as much of each year as I can manage while living in New England.  It is *so* much more enjoyable, freeing, and convenient than feeling obligated to cram myself into shoes all the time.  And yes, quite safe for those accustomed to it -- and building up the soles to handle almost anything only takes a few months to achieve, starting from "tenderfoot" status.  I walk over bits of broken glass and similar debris all the time, and it doesn't bother my well-conditioned "dog pads" any more than small gravel. (2016)
      (Reprinted with the permission of John Hart Studios)
However, far too often I've wound up throwing on a pair of the cheap, flat-soled Chinese style "kung fu" shoes for stores and restaurants and event spaces under the assumption [or discovered reality] that I'll get hassled for being barefoot otherwise.  [Nowadays, it's more likely to be a pair of deceivers, aka "fakeout shoes", which slip even more conveniently into a pocket than the unmodified ones with soles.]  It is rather ridiculous that I run into any need to acquiesce to the ignorant, as there is nothing logically or legally mandating me to have footwear in such places; and by making the choice to enter I've already demonstrated taking my own responsibility for any conceivable personal safety issues.  In fact, I've clearly assumed my own "sole risk" the moment I step out of the car in their parking lot.  In the vast majority of such venues, there's no cause for concern and no need for its staff and workers to even look down, let alone make some negative point about it.  My hands and head are uncovered; my feet should not be thought of any differently.

      See this special advisory on COVID-19 and barefooting.  TL;dr: it's fine

And for anyone to try and dictate what may be "offensive" or not is presumptuous at best, not to mention highly unprofessional on the part of store or restaurant personnel.  Ask the kid with the piercings and six-inch purple mohawk about personal choices, or the woman across the room in full hijab, or the identically white-bonneted busload of Mennonite girls who just arrived for lunch.  Try telling that overweight lady with too much perfume on that she shouldn't be buying food anyway and needs to leave the grocery store.  They all have the same freedom to enter the same places of business too, legally known as "public accomodations", and receive equal treatment.  The employees and owners cannot predict what any customer may personally like or dislike about other patrons, and it's none of anyone's business to guess about either way.  It's part of going out in public and mingling with other people, where the only restrictions that carry any weight are those that address "indecent exposure", and last I checked my feet are not my genitals.

Barefooting in this country, while not covered specifically by law, lands in a grey area somewhere between discrimination and dress codes that remains annoyingly open to dispute.  Its acceptance is hampered by many misconceptions and flat-out lies formed in long-bygone times, stemming from resistance to the hippie movement and even before that, conservative reactions to civil rights legislation.  Fundamentally, it's a religious war, a culture clash.  It has nothing to do with public or business health and safety codes, but there are still plenty of misinformed haters out there -- all those "shod supremacists", trying to bully us into believing that it does.  Here is a printable text file quoting the applicable law in Massachusetts against discriminatory practice in public establishments, and clarifying how business owners can think more sensibly about the issue and change their outward policies for the better.  Laws and regulations are likely similar in most other states.

There are numerous websites where interested parties and facility administration alike can find all the information they need on the "barefoot movement", including full and factual debunking of all the timeworn myths.  Here are a very few to get started:

Or just conduct your own investigation!  Many other resources and facts can be found with a few simple search-term combinations that cover the most common concerns and excuses:
  health barefoot
  safety barefoot
  liability barefoot
  barefoot running
  barefoot hiking

[See this update about the Barefoot is Legal group.]

In early 2016 I began to correspond with some of the other online barefoot advocates in my area, and participate in various group activities like hikes and dinner gatherings.  I viewed this as further support in my own journey, particularly with helping bring awareness and reason to typically stodgy organizations that still harbored some unreasoned sixties-holdover fear and loathing for bare feet.  In keeping with my own personal tradition of advising selected companies on best customer-facing practices in the online world, it seemed a short step to use those same techniques and reach out to them to discuss customer and client policy decisions about footwear in an escalated and educational fashion.  It takes a bit of a shift for them to understand that their duty of care ends where my personal rights begin, and that nobody is worse off for it.

While my past efforts to inform have met with an entire spectrum of successes and failures, I've chosen this point in time to start bringing it to the web and chronicle some of the major interactions.  Most businesses can correspond with their customer bases via email these days, so addressing complaints or encouragement to people on their corporate ladders has become easier and copies can be placed online for public consumption later.  In general, their falling silent or failure to respond simply indicates that they can come up with no logical argument against barefooting, so they just rely on the ivory-tower corporate cop-out.  Whether they answer or not, change their attitude or just blow me off, the full exchange can likely be found here afterward, and the potential effects of that on reputation should not be ignored.  Discerning viewers can then make their own judgements and gather ideas.  The same message can be presented in so many different ways -- set my piggies free

There is no question that general awareness of the barefoot lifestyle is increasing, so if you've always wanted to kick off your shoes and exercise your own rights as a citizen, to walk where you want and how you want, now's the time!  Narrow-minded infringement by others on one's personal choices is simply unacceptable.  It has no place in a polite, well-informed society whose members want respect for their individual freedom, not misguided babysitting.

To that end, here is the list, in mostly forward-chronological order and roughly color-coded by success status or context.  Readers are free to regard some of the negative entries as "sour grapes" rants or SJW tirades if it makes anyone feel better; the point is to illustrate just how stupid the anti-barefooting sentiments and manufactured "reasons" really are.  Some entries are dealings with corporations and establishments; some are just plain fun barefootin' times.  Items will continue to be added as the adventure continues. 
NEFFA folk festival -- "food fear" finally fixed, more or less   (prior, spring 2015, huge FAIL and re-fix 2018-2019)
American Home Shows -- asked nicely in advance, reactions were rather extreme.  (Feb 2016)
Balticon 50 -- Renaissance Harborplace hotel, Baltimore, final resolution negative   (Mem-day weekend 2016, May 2017)
REI -- Recreational barefooting is okay with them!   (June 2016)
Jordan's Furniture -- Prevailing at the local level, at least   (July 2016)
Big Y says "N" -- When small food chains turn blindly corporate   (Aug 2016)
China Pearl -- Authentic Chinatown food, and THE place for Dim Sum   (Sep 2016 and subsequent)
Stop&Shop -- says "stop & SHOE", despite supposedly progressive European corporate ties   (Jun, Oct 2016)
Interlude: something frightening seen on a highway   (March 2017)
Virginia caverns -- A mixed bag of survey results, with one   notable positive     (March 2017)
Nix on Publix -- Major southeast grocery chain, still working on it   (Mar/Apr 2017)
Shell game -- Shell Oil branded locations aren't consistent, so we'll just wing it for now   (Feb/Mar 2017, written up later)
Market Basket-case -- Local food store chain can't seem to accept the facts   (winter/spring 2017)
Interlude: a pleasant springtime high-energy hike in the Blue Hills --
    where the Shoe Cops fear to tread!   (May 2017)
Newport Nonsense -- Elegant mansions shouldn't need shoes inside, but obstinate custodians disagree   (June 2017)
The Peabody Essex museum remains resolutely anti-barefoot for whatever stupid reason   (June 2017)
At Trader Joe's, "no policy" is good policy   (July 2017)
Harvard Museum was enlightened!   (Oct 2017)
A paper letter to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, an appeal for some legislative sanity   (Nov 2017)
Whole Foods Market is still indeterminate, as far as anyone knows   (letter sent Nov 2017)
A hike up Breakneck Ridge in NY, shortly before the park was likely to close for construction   (Dec 2017)
For all its merits otherwise, Wegmans remains stupidly prejudiced   (Jul-Dec 2017)
Barefoot Auto Repair is (or was?) true to its name ; may have since closed   (Dec 2017)
"BarefootPoetAdvocate" refused to publish my interview, so it's here   (Dec 2017)
Positive steps against discrimination at Arisia 2018 (see part 2).  We'll see how long that lasts   (Jan 2018)
Hard lesson for Family Dental: discrimination is not family-friendly   (Feb 2018, Feb 2019)
Despite a very reasonable discussion, I could not quite get a local escape-room place to agree with my confidence (Apr 2018)
Out in the cold, more hiking stories and some comments on "winterfooting"   (begun winter 2018)
Harvard experiments, in which I participated as a lab rat test subject   (Jul 2018)
7-Eleven stores have no reason to discriminate, and are held accountable   (Oct 2018)
A brief loop around Myakka State Park in Florida   (Dec 2018)
One of the Kardashians demonstrates why high heels are so awful for feet   (Jan 2019?)
A proposed article on barefoot hiking, submitted for various AMC chapter newsletters   (Mar 2019,
      and first published here with very few editorial changes!)
      ... and after their continued failure to learn, I simply punted the AMC entirely.  Don't need 'em   (Jul 2022)
Walgreens has always been barefoot-friendly, and here's audible proof   (Nov 2019)
I worked my town's polls on Election Day, while expressing my own American freedom   (Nov 3, 2020)
Arrogant ignorance is rife in the HVAC/R industry when its trainers have bad attitudes   (Feb 2021)
  ... And it's even worse in the COVID effort, where I was thrown out and denied the vaccine simply for no shoes   (Apr 2021)
Capricon 42 issued unacceptable "policy"; I objected despite not even attending the in-person con (Feb 2022)
Treated like a second-class citizen at CarMax, by a manager's ignorant power-trip   (Aug 2022)
A happy May Day triumph at Mahoney's Garden and shrubbery store   (May 2023)
Successful up-front correction of hotel adversity at Readercon 32, with followup letter   (July 2023)
Planning/researching a more strenuous hike in the Middlesex Fells, to lead for its Friends group   (Aug 2023)
      (I wound up leading a small series of hikes in the Fells during Fall 2023, all barefoot of course!)
Fighting dumbass discrimination at a Trustees property, guardedly green for now   (Aug 2023)
Locating the Silver Mine site in the Middlesex Fells   (Oct 2023)
Fixing the garish color problem of the Magic Socks, preferred winter footwear when insulation is needed   (Jan 2024)

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