Now don’t get me wrong everyone. I enjoy Sushi very much so, and a Japanese or any other Asian owned establishment will not discriminate against barefooters. This however was an American owned place and as a result enforced American type fashion based values. Before I get to that, I have to say, up until then I had a great barefoot couple of weeks.
In fact, there is there is a lot to write about in terms of both barefoot friendliness and barefoot unfriendliness, I focus first on the past couple of days.
It started off with Sunday night/Monday morning being a relief as Sunday I had a wedding to go to – black tie event, meaning, my feet were suffocating from being in their closed shoes – well, a pair of dress boots that I wear so I can at least go sockless. I still find it amazing that women guests can often kick off their heels and walk barefoot but you would never see a guy in a suit or tux walk in anything less than socks if even that!
As soon as I got in the car to leave, off came the boots where they remained off through Monday morning when I got a call from one of my old clients. After stopping for a quick lunch on the way at Sun in Bloom in Park Slope, which is a great place to get some work done, I continued on to my client. Though I left the computer support industry a number of years ago, I keep in touch with some of the client who I really enjoy working with and this particular one is one of them. I think aside from being a really nice guy, we share the same libertarian views, which to me goes hand-in-hand with barefoot and barefoot tolerance.
Afterwards, I went to the promenade in Brooklyn Heights to catch up on some reading. While there, I observed the newly developed Brooklyn Bridge Park bike path from above and decided to explore some more. Much of the path is composed of smooth gravel as well as textured surfaces which provided a nice massage for the feet. I observed some people walking barefoot on the rocks including a small child who was with her mother. Closer to the water were sunbathers including one who decided to get really comfortable.
In addition to going barefoot, I’m all for wearing as little as possible!
I sat by the water to observe the view (No not that view!) of the Seaport directly across the water and Water Taxi Beach where I been just a week before without a problem after the previous week of being not allowed in due to bare feet.
I continued to follow the path, which led to the Water Taxi Station. Nearby was an ice cream place, just across from River Café. I decided to be a little bad and splurge on a couple of scoops, walking on Old Fulton Street after where I had a conversation with a gentleman, who once lived in Brooklyn but had since moved out of town and was visiting with his wife. We talked about Old Brooklyn and he was quite impressed that I had ridden my bike from my neighborhood over to the water, barefoot.
I continued my ride into Dumbo along the park near the Manhattan Bridge and then onto Flushing Avenue into Fort Greene, stopping at one of my favorite Fort Greene places to go on line and check up with the members of my work team on Skype. An artist who frequents there sees me often and of course notices that my feet are perpetually bare. We talked about his work and was looking for portraits to do of regulars there. I was more than happy to volunteer my services.
After working there til closing time, it was time to grab a bite to eat and I headed over to a quaint Italian place in Bed Stuy, which also has good WiFi access. The place has never given me any problems with going barefoot – one reason why I don’t list their name, just in case they change their mind. Interestingly there my barefoot night got more interesting.
While I was sitting in a comfortable chair working, a lady came up to me and asked if the seat next to me was empty. As soon as she sat down, off came her shoes. It turned out she was a graphic designer like myself and we spoke for a bit before the conversation turned to the coziness of the place. When she commented how I got her favorite comfy chair, I commented that she still looked pretty comfortable with her feet curled up in the chair.
“Ah, the bare feet,” she laughed. “I get so many faces and strange looks when I take off my shoes.” I realized for the first time that maybe it’s not sexist but even women get slack from eschewing their shoes. “That’s why I sat next to you,” she continued, “I saw you had your shoes off so you wouldn’t give me a problem.”
I told her I actually didn’t have shoes with me at all and we had a laugh as we talked about how ridiculous it was that people would have such a problem with bare feet. I wanted to get something to eat, however, there was nothing vegan or fish on the menu and the fruit platter was not enough to fill me, so I decided to head down to my area to stop at the new sushi place which I had already been to a couple of times.
It was a long bike ride and I was glad to see they were open as I was pretty hungry at this point. While locking my bike up, a guy came out of the store and the exchange went a bit weirdly like, “hey, do you have shoes with you? You better put ‘em on.” I answered in the negative and he informed me that they would not let me in. Note that this was not a Japanese owned place, for if it were, it would not even be a question whether or not I can go barefoot. “I’ve been here a few times before,” I replied. The guy went back in for a few seconds and then out again, saying good night to me.
After locking up my bike, I was approached by one of the employees who asked if I had shoes. “We can’t let you in if you don’t have shoes.”
“Look, I’ve been here before,” I told him, “and there was never a problem.”
“Well we noticed you had no shoes when you left so we can’t let you in like that,” he replied. Of course never mind the fact that I had given this place good business and praised the menu and ambiance one time when I went to make a pick-up. If it were a problem, he could have bee nice about it.
“Listen,” I tried to reason, “if you are concerned about health code, there are no health code laws with regard to barefoot customers.” Now there were 2 employees outside including one who went outside to light up a cigarette.
“Look, it’s law, no shirt, no shoes…” Hmm. A mental midget.
“Those are bylaws a business is allowed to post,” I informed him. “It is not state law, but by law, you have the option to post them where customers can see them. Without those you cannot turn good customers away.”
“We can decide who we want to let in,” the employee retorted rudely. At this point, I was incensed by how prejudiced he was against appearances and told him, “Well, I decide who I want to give business with, so it’s been nice doing business with you.” In retrospect I wish I batted home the point that they would never see me again in their operation.
I was really incensed over that exchange and despite the fact that I was really hungry, I deliberately took my time unlocking my bike – hey let them deal with the image of me in front of their place. I rode around a bit trying to find a place that was open. On the way to the American owned Sushi place I passed the Shawarma place but was really not up for meat. I decided to pass by to see if it was still open and sure enough the doors were not closed yet. A couple of people were sitting inside and I asked, “are you still open?”
“We sure are!” answered the owner. “To go or to stay?” He told me to sit anywhere. Right away I noticed that one of the two people inside was my friend and noticing how I was dressed asked, “where did you come from, Prospect Park and beyond?” We had a laugh and after he left, I had a pleasant chat with the owner who was Israeli. It is interesting how most places that are ethnic are friendly towards barefoot people as opposed to American – and not to get too political, but liberal American places! But there definitely is a political connection when it comes to barefoot intolerance, which I’ll get into another time.
One of the things I always do with a barefoot friendly place is praise how good their food and service is. I told the owner, who was Israeli, that they were better than the old schnitzel place around the corner, where I used to go, which at one time was critically acclaimed in the Village Voice. That is when I heard their sad story, that owners of the 2 places were good friends. The owner of the other place moved back to Israel and sold his operation to someone else, who expanded the place, but the quality of the food declined. I told the owner of the place I was at that it was probably also both his food was good and he was good to his customers. He looked up saying that it is all from the heavens. I walked out that night with a good feeling, feeling the difference between the hostility of the American owned Sushi place and the Israeli owned shawarma place.
I thought that was the last bout of barefoot unfriendliness I would get until earlier this afternoon when I decided to try a new WiFi place. At first the services was really friendly. When my laptop battery started to run out, I was forced to move to the bar where I could plug into the outlet behind the counter. Though the barrista was accommodating she commented that I could not be in this place barefoot. Oh no, not again, and I was on an important Skype call with someone who I had been endlessly trying to reach.
I did the usual asking why and she replied with “for your safety…we are liable” I told her that in no way were they liable for my choice to not wear shoes. When she mentioned health code, I replied that there was no such thing. She left it alone but then another lady came out, who appeared to be the owner.
“Believe me,” I told her, “I can prove to you that there is no health code violation and besides, bare feet are actually safer than most shoes, including heels.” She still insisted that I have shoes on. Not wanting to turn it into an issue since I needed to be on this Skype call, and my battery was almost out, I explained the situation to her.
“Ok, how long do you need?” she asked, to which I replied about 10 minutes. She said fine and left it. Before leaving I paid for my drink, asking the barrista to make sure that the tip went to my server who left for the day. She gave me a friendly wave as well as one of the customers, an attractive lady who observed the exchange. I am not planning on being back there again, especially since they do not have enough outlets to work. I rode back to my Fort Greene place from yesterday where I resumed my Skype chat. Taking a break outside, someone called my name. Another artist who had overheard my conversation with the artist from the day before.
This must be the place where everybody knows my name. I think I’ll keep it, as well as the friendly Shawarma, but goodbye hostile Sushi!