Why Are You Walking Barefoot Around Center City?

Philly ain't the beach and the sidewalks sure aren't made out of sand.

Via Shutterstock.

Via Shutterstock.

It was 11 a.m. on a Friday at 15th and Locust when I saw it: a man, in nice khakis and a polo, holding his shoes and socks in one hand and his cell phone in the other. No, there wasn’t a fire, and, yes, he was totally barefoot and walking down the street like it was no big deal, chilling and chatting on his phone.

I had to stop and wonder if I wasn’t in some sort of Alice in Wonderland-type dream (more on those later), but, nope: This was real life and this dude was barefoot walking down a dirty Philly street. I’d say this was a strange, isolated incident, but it isn’t. I keep seeing people casually walking down the sidewalk with absolutely no footwear. And I don’t understand.

Yes, there have always been a handful of late-night party goers who come stumbling out of a bar, half-drunk, and their $19.99 Payless heels aren’t cutting it, so they flop barefoot down the street. But I keep seeing people — sober people — in broad daylight doing the same, and it’s really, really gross.

Maybe it’s because I never was a fan of walking barefoot. Even when I was a kid, running out in the yard with no shoes wasn’t my thing. And now, as an adult, I approach walking along the sand at the Jersey shore with much trepidation. I remember when a very good friend of mine, who had just moved here from the West Coast, wanted to put his feet in the Atlantic Ocean. We were in A.C., finishing a meal at Caesars, and he was insistent about going on the shore with no shoes.

“You really don’t want to do that,” I warned. But soon enough, his sneakers were off and he was skipping toward the water when he stepped on something: a syringe.  

But Center City ain’t the beach and the sidewalks of Locust Street sure aren’t made out of sand. I asked a few friends about this strange series of barefoot wanderers: One, a former New York City resident, told me, “I did that a couple of times, in my younger days, when I had to walk somewhere by myself, late at night. Works like a charm: Nobody will come near you!” Another response: “Sometimes it’s nice to feel the warm concrete beneath your feet. Can’t say I haven’t done it.”

However, all of that “warm concrete” under your bare toes can come at a cost, according to Bridget Notos, an R.N. at a Philadelphia-area hospital. “Talk about millions of germs,” she said. “Plus, there’s the chance that you’ll walk on glass and other sharps, which could lead to tetanus, hepatitis, MRSA, and Staph infections.”

“Let’s not forget tracking all of the filthy city germs back into homes,” she added. “It’s not like in shore towns where people have adequate outside showers and hoses to rinse their feet off.”

And you thought wearing flip-flops in the city was gross.

Maybe I’m overreacting, but I have legit nightmares about having to walk barefoot through nails and dirty streets and even through office hallways. In one dream, I was in a hospital and I had to dart around disposed needles (I blame my friend in A.C. for that one). It’s like I’m balancing myself, skirting around every little thing that might puncture my feet. I wake up and thank the shoe gods that it was just a dream.

But to many people, it seems like my nightmare is just another day walking down Walnut Street.

Bryan Buttler is the editor of Philadelphia‘s G-Philly blog. Follow him on Twitter @bryanb82. And please wear shoes when you do.