Marolt: Buying into the dream at a big discount

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

Possibly the best place in the world to buy trail-running shoes is Midland, Texas. It sounds preposterous because it’s a hundred degrees outside and the nearest mountain is far closer than either a trail or a runner, and it is either in New Mexico or old Mexico, take your pick.

It works like this: A store in Midland puts a pair of snazzy trail-running shoes on display. They stock a few pairs in various sizes to complete the charade. The shoes are very cool-looking, and they say “trail running” on the side, so it is obvious what they are used for. Now, in West Texas in August, the only thing that sounds better than getting outside in the cool mountain air to go for a run and jump over a rushing creek or two is a cold beer, and since you can get that at any drive-through liquor store, the trail run is far more enticing.

Thus sold on the idea of running on a trail in the mountains on a misty afternoon wearing a fleece pullover, you pick up the trail-running shoe and flex its sole in your hands. Some go so far as to try a size on. Oh, it is so comfortable and rugged! You take a couple of steps down the aisle and bounce on the toes. Heaven! Then the practical part of the mind takes over: “What am I thinking? I’ll never use these things. I’m not falling for the pitch.” Then you get the attention of the sales clerk and ask to see a pair of cross-trainers in your size. It’s the perfectly executed bait and switch, and nobody is the wiser!

After the store has sold all of its cross-trainers to folks who came in to look at the trail-runners, they have to get rid of the trail-runners to make room for the sheepskin Uggs they need to get on display in order to sell cross-trainers in fall colors, and so they put all of the trail-runners on sale for 60 percent off. You think I’m being ironic, but I’ve been going down to Midland in August for more than two decades and have observed the cycle that many times and have come back across the border of Colorado each time with a nice, new pair of trail-running shoes at a steal of a price.

I’ve heard that big supermarkets do a similar thing. For example, they stock the shelves with 25 exotic brands of jams, jellies and preserves from all over the world that they know they will never sell in order to bring people in to buy the same old Smucker’s strawberry flavor that they’ve always bought.

People like to have choices even if they don’t particularly like to stray from what they are familiar with in order to exercise them. We love to believe we are willing to push the limits even if we never actually will. It’s why Aspen advertises the heck out of Highland Bowl even though most people prefer to ski Sneaky’s all day long. It’s all about the dream that could come true but won’t because deep down in Steeplechase, we don’t want it to.

Our nature works perfectly into the pocketbooks of marketers. They have discovered that simply by offering us choices we won’t take, they create a more upscale image and can charge us more for the ordinary stuff we end up buying.

It kind of explains the American condition of consuming a great deal without getting much satisfaction for it. Without the gratification from accumulation, we spiral deeper into the vortex and buy even more, hoping to eventually get what we crave most — freedom from the cycle.

There are lots of people with Oakley sunglasses but very few surfers in the world. I think the key to satisfaction is not in dressing like a surfer but to go out and actually learn to surf, but that takes something that money can’t buy — work without pay and benefits.

OK, OK — I understand that it’s not practical for most of us to go out and become big-wall rock climbers and waterfall kayakers, much less legit pop rappers, so there is no harm in buying into looking like we can as long as we are willing to drop the facades long enough to attend parent-teacher conferences without acting completely put out by it. But go ahead and surprise somebody who’s trying to sell you a dream they don’t believe you’ll take. If you can wait until it’s out of season, chances are you can get a heck of a deal on it. It might even get you off and running in the right direction.

Roger Marolt is looking forward to trying out his new trail-runners. Contact him at


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