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From small piles emerge big trips


Somewhere in the life of my home, the place turned into a staging area for travelers coming, travelers going.

The front entry hall is frequently decorated with suitcases, backpacks and sleeping bags, whatever is needed for the next launch.

The people who go and come through this door are a pack of gypsies. There are little trips ('bye mom, bicycles atop the car) to big trips (think of the money we'll save on our energy bill!).

Today's departure schedule includes the returning-to-college student. He never really finished arriving home from college, given that some clothes have been flung on the floor since May.

Today the floor of the room would make a nice anthropological study of the detritus of college life. The returning college sophomore is in the process of packing his necessities. Predictably, there is a stack of T-shirts, a nice set of headphones, a Frisbee, a book on the teachings of Buddha and a bass guitar.

Inexplicably, there is a box of spark plugs. He has no car at school.

Midnight madness

It's difficult to say what dark hour of night all of this stuff will get packed. Right now it's early, only 15 hours before departure. The returning college student is out taking care of business, crating up his horribly expensive bicycle for shipping, and, I believe, trying to find a girl he needs to say good-bye to.

I'm taking comfort sitting here in his room among the packings of his life. The stuff lying all over the floor, somewhat stacked, somewhat tossed, does not appear to reveal the workings of an organized mind.

But actually, it is. I know this because I use a similar packing method, stacking my floor with displays of things I plan to take on the trip. It works like this: A week before I leave I begin to think about what to take. "Oh, better take the mini-binoculars this time," say I, and off I go to get them right then and there, then I plunk them on the chair in my bedroom. The chair fills up in a few days, then I move operations to floor stacks.

The night before the trip -- pack and panic time -- I don't really panic the way I used to when I saved the packing for one session. With things already laid out, the task isn't overwhelming and I'm not too likely to forget something I'd really like to have along.

Floor puzzle

I sometimes wonder what anthropologists would make of the leavings on my floor.

Would they wonder what the heck a traveler needs a doorstop for? (Answer: A doorstop makes a handy additional security measure for a hotel door that lacks an impressive lock system).

One of the things no one should be at all surprised to find in my packing pile is comfortable shoes.

The last time I wrote on the topic of comfortable, yet fashionable traveling shoes, female readers wrote, called and e-mailed in record numbers.

Women everywhere want to know: how do you walk all over creation and not look like a clodhopper?

In that earlier column, I mentioned I had found a shoe that fit the bill. Readers wanted to know where to buy it. I couldn't tell them; it was last year's model.

Now I do have some good shoe news to convey on the shoe quest. I just made my first trip to the Walk Shop, 2120 Vine St. in Berkeley.

If you have traveling feet, they've got the wrappers.

Have shoes, will travel

I would suggest giving some thought to exactly what type of walking shoes your trip will require because there are low-mileage shoes and high-mileage shoes in this store; there are skirt shoes and pant shoes, clunky shoes and flirty shoes. Finding the right combination for what you need is still challenging.

In my case, I had been reading guide books on Turkey and Greece and they suggested that given the cobblestones, a very flat heel-less shoe would be a good idea.

So off I went to the Walk Shop. I had already abandoned notions of looking like some hot French miss hanging out at the Acropolis. European women do -- those little minces -- manage to traipse through caves and up cliffs wearing flimsy, strappy gorgeous shoes.

But not this blister-prone babe. Nor am I going to look like all the sensible Americans who wear running shoes. As Robert, salesman at the Walk Shop put it, Europeans only wear running shoes when they're running.

So today I'm at work wearing my new Walk Shop sandals, which are both fashionable and have the bounce to carry me miles in comfort. Tomorrow I begin to break in the other new pair, closed toe shoes for bad weather, not nearly as cute but not nurse shoes either.

I'll alternate both pairs until they lose any notion of gnawing on my feet and causing blisters.

One day soon, though, they'll get tossed into a packing pile on my floor, the beginnings of a fine mess that will metamorphose into a trip.

Anne Chalfant is Times travel editor. She can be reached at 925-943-8192 or at achalfant@cctimes.com.

Published Sunday, August 19, 2001

2001 Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News

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