I am a boot-wearing girl. I love my tall, black leather flat-heeled riding boots that graze my knees and my high-heeled suede booties that leave a little ankle showing. I thrill at wearing my flamboyant rain boots decorated with orange, swishing fish and adore my cozy fur-trimmed snow boots for mountain weekends. I traipse around in my beat up Uggs whenever I crave a little fuzzy comfort.
Still, there’s one pair of boots I don’t own: cowboy boots.
When I step off the plane in Nashville, it seems like the perfect place to go in search of the perfect cowboy boots. But committing to cowboy boots is not something you do on a whim. If you’re a gal who defaults to black t-shirts, skinny jeans and Prada purses, cowboy boots are a whole new world, a different kind of wow, a fantasy you’ve always had but not sure is yours. It requires preparation, a little mood music and just the right lighting.
So, first things first: we are here to celebrate my BFF’s 40th birthday. Bring on the honky-tonk, rockabilly, country pop and rock-n-roll. Slightly humid in early May, the air smells of sweet jasmine, deep fry and last night’s spilled beer. Fried green tomatoes and baked cheese one night, vintage cocktails with names like Vehment Vesper and A Summer Abroad the next. Dancing with a stranger to Jerry Lee Lewis. Serenaded by a street strummer playing Junior Wells at two in the morning. By the time I hit the pillow, I’m lovin’ all that is crooning and country and cowgirl.
The next day, I knowingly make the mistake of going to the most upscale boot store in town. They bring me sweating bottles of cool water and fit my foot while I relax in a softly worn leather armchair. They happily haul out box after box of beautiful, exotic cowboy boots until all at once I’m swooning: black boots, lizard across the toe, delicately stitched leather shafts, scalloped cuff.
I walk the store in my boots. I show them off to my friends and my husband. They all nod and smile and encourage. I admire my boots in the full-length mirror, turning this way and that. I can feel my credit card burning a hole in my wallet. My heartbeat dips a little, my brain trips. I do not buy the boots.
Even though I love them and they are singing to me, I am not convinced the boots will transcend Nashville, Tennessee and be at home on my feet in Oakland, California. I’m not sure they will survive out of their element. I thank the salesgirl, taking her card with the style number and my size written on it. “Call me if you change your mind,” she says.
I spend the next several hours wondering, “Am I a girl who wears cowboy boots?” Even now, in my 40s, I am not so sure I’m always living as my true self. I still try on different personalities, morphing from sensible mom of three into party girl one night, then into upstanding school board member come morning; devouring a Neil Gaiman novel followed by Veronica Roth’s futuristic YA stories; dropping the f-bomb in mixed company over the weekend, then dictionary diving for words like “exigent” and “surfeit” come Monday. I pick and choose, trying on then shedding off bits and pieces of personas that don’t feel quite right. Will the boots meet a similar fate?
That night we hang out at The Stage, a popular Downtown Nashville bar, riveted by the awesome Matte Gray Band. Traditional country blends into rap fuses into pop rolls into rock then slides back into country. The songs send me pinging back and forth between the here and now and 25 years ago. They play Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and I am in Colorado at Tuck and Nat’s sweet lakeside wedding where they both wore cowboy boots. “Sweet Home Alabama” lands me squarely back at Duke, face to face with my crush at a fraternity party. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is up next and I think about how the album 8 Mile made me believe in rap music for the first time ever. Without a hitch, the singer slips into Lorde’s “Royals,” a song I’m so incredibly sick of, but always sing along to in the car with my kids.
I am mesmerized by the overlap of country, rap, pop and rock and how they keep borrowing from each other, beats and rhythms so at home with one another. Little Feat, The Steve Miller Band, Hunter Hayes, Florida Georgia Line and even Michael Jackson all live and breathe together on that stage in Nashville. Listening to it all, I reclaim bits and pieces of who I am – and there’s more than a little country in the mix.
A few weeks later back home in Oakland, I find a pair of gorgeous black-cherry boots online and save them to my cart. They are the same brand as the ones I tried on in Tennessee and just as stunning. My time in Nashville is a part of me now and like the songs, the boots will remind me of high times with good friends, dancing on the sidewalk to a twangy guitar, duck fried tater tots and the time we didn’t go to the Bluebird Café. I think I just may be a cowboy boots kinda gal after all. I’m one click away from finding out.