Here’s why I like old-school barbershops.  Read on…

I started going to the local barbershop years ago when I got tired of going to the sports-themed family haircutters who charged a lot and where I never saw the same kid twice.  They always had to be instructed as to what number of clipper attachment was to be used on my beard,etc.  I figured that since there was a storefront with a striped pole within a quarter mile of my house, I should probably just go there; especially since my hair is as ordinary as it gets.  I certainly have never needed a “stylist”.  And it was less than $10.  Even now, it’s only $11.

My childhood memories of barbershops involved sitting on green Naugahyde seats framed by chromed steel tubes and lots of sports magazines.  And cigarette smoke.

Well, the local barbershop is exactly that minus the cigarette smoke and the old Naugahyde chairs.  Apparently he once had the Naugahyde chairs but replaced them in the early ’90s with his old living room furniture when his wife redecorated their house.  Then he bought a church pew when the church across the street renovated its sanctuary.   Sure, he has the sports magazines but he also has National Geographic, Private Pilot and whatever else his customers leave there.  I don’t care much about sports – too much to keep track of.  My world is complex enough without having to remember what all the sports teams are doing.  But the memorabilia he keeps on his walls are all local stuff – often signed by whoever is in the photo.  There is a refrigerator with soda and water.  You just take what you want and drink; you can pay him later.  He’s not a stickler for the money for the Cokes.

The best part is:  he remembers my name and how I want my hair cut.  And the fact that he sings in a barbershop style quartet in his spare time.  That’s just cool.

But yesterday, I found something else to like.

I had planned all day long to get my hair cut on the way home from work and then managed to forget about it.  When I remembered, it was nearly 6:00 which is when he closes.  I went anyway thinking that maybe I could get in but there was a line.  However, he had not locked the door so I went on in and he told me to sit down but that it would be late.  I was last and it was nearly 7:00 when he finished up with me.  It was then that an old man came in with a guitar case.

Instead of telling the man that he was closed, my barber just greeted him and started talking.  As their conversation went on, I realized that this was the first of a handful of old guys that met there every Tuesday night to play and sing bluegrass music.  Something in the way I asked about it made the guy ask me if I played and would I like to sit in?  Well, I didn’t sit in but I did stay there in a chair as about seven retirees came in, set up, and started playing.

My barber packed his stuff and made ready to leave.  I asked him if he wasn’t staying too and he said:

“Nah.  I’m going home.  It’s OK, these guys have a key, they’ll lock up when they’re done.”

That’s what I like about old-school bluegrass guys.  And barbers.  And small-town attitudes.

After they played their first tune they decided to figure out who I was; they were not used to having an audience except at the retirement home where they play on Thursday nights.  One guy switched to fiddle and tried to make me take his guitar.  I should have.

So I have a standing invitation to go play with these guys but I was told in no uncertain terms that if I showed my face in there again, I’d have to show up with my guitar or there would be trouble.  They would hold me there till I played with them.  It’s not often you feel that welcomed by strangers.  But any bluegrass guy will tell you that there are no strangers in the guitar circle.

I was mystified by the tip jar.  And then it hit me:  they all put in tips to leave for the barber in return for using his shop.

I hope I have the nerve to show up again and play guitar at the barber shop.  But there’s not a one of them there that’s under the age of 75; I’m not sure I’d know their tunes.  But they swear that all the tunes are easy.