San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

So: What AREThose Shoes Doing Up There?

YOU’VE seen them.Shoes, with the shoelaces tied together,hanging over electrical wires.And you’ve wondered why they’rethere.I’VE heard dozens of rumors – both inthe United States and in Costa Rica – aboutwhat they might mean. I’ve heard they arehung where people have been killed, theyindicate the best places to purchase drugs,they warn rival gang members they’re onenemy turf, or they mark the spot where aresident of the neighborhood died.Which of these is true? For months, thequestion burned a hole in my mind. I had tofind an answer.I’m sorry. Let me be honest with you –the question burned a hole in the mind ofmy editor, and she made me find theanswer. Point is, I went and asked a wholelot of people just what those shoes couldmean.“ONLY people who live in the streetdo that, as a form of rebellion against theculture, the government, the society,” saidCarlos Román, a barista at Café delCorreo.“The crack addicts put them up there.They have nothing else to do, so theythrow other people’s shoes up there,” saidMarina Bonilla, a lottery saleswomanworking in downtown San José.“A vagrancy. The vandals do it, nothingmore. They throw them just to throwthem,” said Trina Sánchez, a newspapersaleswoman.NOT satisfying answers. I asked atleast 30 people in downtown San José, andthey all gave me similar responses. I evenstood under a pair of shoes, asking passersby,“What does this mean? Why?” A lot ofpeople stared at me while I did that.I got one somewhat interesting answerafter I had given up and started back to theoffice. A young man was sitting on abench. Kid who goes by the name ofRandall Solano. He looked knowledgeable.I asked him.“That, supposedly, is something you doif you’ve been living somewhere for a longtime and your shoes wear out. It’s likeyou’re saying, ‘this is my neighborhood,and those are my shoes,’” he said.I clearly wasn’t finding what I neededon the streets. I had to go higher, get amore official response.SO I went to Francisco Ruíz, the publicinformation officer of the JudicialInvestigation Police (OIJ) – Costa Rica’sFBI. I figured he had to know.I swung the door open and saw him sittingat his desk. He had a tie on, and lookedreal official. I knew it was almost closingtime, so I would have to press hard to getthe info.“I don’t know,” he said, shaking hishead. “It’d be interesting to find out.”And then he chuckled.SO I went to Sandra Castro, chief pressofficer at the Judicial Branch. Nothing.Maybe I shot too high, I figured. Ineeded the people who dealt with mysterieslike this on a daily basis. So I called thecops.“I’ve never heard anything. I think it’ssomething people do to get rid of stress,”said Patricia Méndez, a Public SecurityMinistry spokeswoman.I’ve worked with Patricia on othercases. I know she would be straight up withme.I was clearly in undiscovered territory.I realized nobody had dealt with this mystery.So I did what any good investigatorwould do – I went back to my desk andgave up. But after I sat down, I rememberedwhy this agonizing saga began in thefirst place.It was from our publisher, Dery Dyer,that I heard the shoes apparently mark thespot of fallen comrades. She said this wasbecause people in Costa Rica say “Se colgólos tenis,” when someone dies.He hung up his tennis shoes. It seemedtoo good a fit to be a coincidence. I decidedto grill one more person: Sonia Cordero,our Editorial Assistant. She’s a smart gal,and she’s a Tica, so I figured she wouldhave the information. More importantly,however, she sits about three feet awayfrom me.“It’s true. They say, ‘he hung up thetennis shoes,’ whenever somebody dies,but I don’t know if the shoes actually meanthat,” she said, leaning back in her chair.“We don’t like it, because it’s the sign of alow neighborhood.”REAL helpful. But Sonia was importantfor another reason – she is the onlyperson I spoke with who has actually seensomeone throw shoes over the electricalwire.“If you did it, it was like, ‘you’re a badboy,’” she told me.Another thought occurred to me. Theseshoes must be costing people money.Somebody’s got to take those puppiesdown.I called the National Power and LightCompany to find out what kind of dentthese shoes made in their budget.“I’ll find out and call you right back,”said a woman from their informationoffice.I have yet to hear back from them.THE Tico Times investigation into thismatter remains open. If you or anyone youknow has information explaining why inthe hell those shoes are hanging over thoseelectrical wires, please contact me

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