Driving around Fort Story the other day, I saw two pairs of boots hanging from a power line. Growing up with an Army dad, I’ve been on my share of posts and have seen this sight before. This time, however, it got me thinking what’s the significance of this act? Do boots hanging on a power line have the same meaning to people with no affiliation to the military? I decided to look a little deeper into the tradition and found some interesting facts.
For anyone with any military knowledge, boots over a power line means there’s a “short timer,” a Soldier almost at retirement or their time of service is almost over. The tradition can also cover Soldiers moving to a new post. The theory is that the boots are no longer needed and, therefore, are tossed to announce that a Soldier’s “time is short.”
Outside the military realm there are plenty of other meanings behind “shoefiti,” the name of the Web blog www.shoefiti.com dedicated solely to the act. From gang-related signs to simply bullies being bullies, the tradition of throwing shoes over power lines seems to be a long-held one.
In many inner-city environments, usually sneakers over a power line have a gang-related meaning. According to Barbara Mikkelson’s “The Secret Language of Sneakers,” the sign is either a gang marking its territory or an informal memorial to a fellow gang member who was killed in that spot. The article also references shoes over a power line as a sign of the availability of illegal drugs in the area.
On the Web blog Shoefiti, the act is related to a sign for rites of passages such as marriage and graduation. Mikkelson states that even the loss of virginity for young men is one reason for throwing shoes over power lines.
Finally, both the blog and article state that the tradition is simply kids being kids. Either that children are throwing shoes over power lines because they have nothing else better to do with them or that it is a sign of a bully.
The tradition is so well known it has made its way into Hollywood.
In the 1997 film “Wag the Dog,” a political satire movie about a spin doctor who hires a Hollywood producer to create a fake war with the intention of distracting Americans’ attention from a presidential sex scandal, a public campaign is started of throwing boots on power lines in support of the phony war hero.
Although the tradition is a time-honored one, there are risks involved as there are with many traditions. According to Gary Longmire, Fort Story Directorate of Public Works coordinator, the weight of the boots can put pressure on a power line, and if the line is already weak there is a possibility that the line could fall, causing electrical problems. Longmire said that most of the time, people throwing the boots only make it to the cable lines and not the actual electrical power lines. Dominion Virginia Power and Cox Cable are responsible for removing the boots when they create problems.
Longmire admits that the boots are more of a “maintenance hassle” and eyesore than safety risk, but when the conditions are right and if the wires cross just so, there is a possibility of fire.
As for me, boots over a power line will always be a classic Army tradition. Whenever I see it, I always wonder which “short timer” is about to leave, and what the Soldier’s service was like. So, thank you to all the “short timers” who have served our country, and I wish you the best of luck wherever your journeys may take you. May you always remember your time in the Army whenever you see “shoefiti.”