Ice coated the lenses of my glasses as the wind buffeted my body, forcing me to lean into it like a reluctant lover.
It was only early October, but this was Sault Ste. Marie and winter was here. I should’ve known it was coming when I saw utility workers attaching orange bicycle flags to the top of fire hydrants around campus. The flags were six feet tall. There was no way they needed to be that high. Or so I thought.
I had walked around town dozens of times now. Being a student in a new area was exciting. It was as far away from Detroit as I could think of at the time while still being in the state. There was familiarity in the bridge to Canada, the gas stations, Mc Donald’s, and I-75; and yet it was so different. Smaller, quieter, cleaner. Geese waddled in the large field next to the school parking. Rust from the slag in the cement gave the roads a reddish hue that matched the metal roofs of the college. It was almost exotic.
All of that escaped me as I trudged forward. The only thing that mattered was getting some boots. Some good boots. I was wearing my new winter coat and was amazed at how well it fought the weather. It was made from a then new material called “thinsulite” and kept you warm without having all the bulk of traditional winter coats. I could twist and move freely as I walked up the road without doing my best impression of the Michelin man. I loved it and I wanted boots that could match.
The wind was there when I started the journey. Lake Superior State University (Lake State) sits on top of a hill and has two sides of it open to the river and a bay which brings an almost constant breeze. (Sometimes, something more.) It’s something you get used to. What I didn’t expect was the sleet. The wind drove the sleet forcefully down Ashmund street and into the opening of my hood. My cheeks, already burning red from the winds and cold temps flared against the pelting. Ice droplets the size of salt grains blasted against my skin while frosting my glasses and caking the front of my jeans.
I turned around and pulled out a bandana to wipe my lenses. Shoving it my pocket, I turned again to continue on. I made it about a block. This started a curious dance. Fight the wind and sleet for a block, turn and clean so I could see. Walk, stop, turn, clean. Walk, stop turn, clean. Somewhere along the way I gave up using the soaked and half frozen bandana to wipe my glasses and instead wrapped around my half frozen face to keep the stinging of the sleet down. It took me twice as long, but I reached the store.
“What are you doing? Dressing for Halloween?” Came the greeting from the store owner.
I smiled as I shook off my hood and pulled the bandana from my face. I knew I looked ridiculous, especially to the natives, but didn’t care. I didn’t see anyone else walking on the streets, native or not. I proved my toughness, now I was going to get my reward.
Walking up and down the aisles, I unzipped my coat. It was hot inside in comparison to the outside and I was beginning to sweat. Finding the boots, I looked at my choices. One had caught my eye. It was a nice tan color with rubber around the base of it and flowing over the toe area. Being five inches tall, it reminded me of high-top basketball shoes. I searched for my size. None were to be had. I was disappointed. They would’ve been perfect. They were small but rugged, and they even had thinsulite in them. Damn the luck!
Gazing to my right was another pair of boots. Same brand, same features, but not as nice. They were taller and had a dull, dark brown color instead of the bright yellow tan of the ones I really wanted. Still they were well built and had a tongue that featured sewn in sides to keep the snow out. They would work.
Throwing off my soaked sneakers, I pulled on the boots. They seemed comfortable if heavy. Tucking in my jean cuffs, I laced them and tied them tight. With my sneakers in the box I paid the forty dollars plus tax, zipped up, and headed back to the dorm. The three mile walk was easier with the wind at my back and new boots on my feet. I almost enjoyed it. That was, until I turned on Easterday Avenue and the wind changed to hit me square in the face.