"A Trip to the Barber," Steven Ashlock (2002)

Al’s Barbershop, prominently located at the junction of two main roads in Petaluma, is a great place to spend your afternoon. The shop is a throw back to the simpler times, when you went to get a haircut, not a hairstyle. It sort of feels like you’re back in Mayberry, and Floyd is behind the chair saying, "Here for a little trim Andy?" Al keeps the clippers sharp, and the tonic jar full, so step on into a bit of history. If you’re not careful, you might miss it. The shop is hidden behind a variety of cars and trucks for sale, the roof and walls look a little wobbly, and weeds grow tall.

Al greets you with a "Hello there," as you scope out the possible wait. Al’s son Vaughn works the second chair, and he gives a nod as you pass. The shop is not terribly big inside, just enough to hold two barber chairs, some oversized waiting chairs, an old-fashioned cash register, and a large variety of outdated magazines, some as many as four years old. Hidden in the back, around the corner past the coat rack full of homeless sweaters and jackets, lies the bathroom. It’s a bathroom in name only, and it’s best to take care of "your business" before you arrive.

I have been coming to Al’s for 17 years, and have watched my hair turn gray in the reflection of his mirrors. Both of my boys have spent many Saturday mornings here, and have progressed through the boy’s cut, shelf cut, flattop, and finally the "high and tight on the sides, short on the top" cut. Hanging on the wall over the cash register is a beautiful eight-point buck. A recent addition to this trophy, hanging from one antler at the end of some green yarn, is an airplane made from a Budweiser beer can.

The TV and radio remain silent, for at Al’s, you pass the time in conversation, and that conversation will eventually end up on the subject of the automobile. Al and his son, both quite knowledgeable about cars and trucks, will talk to anyone willing (or unwilling) to listen. Outside, the shop is surrounded by a variety of vehicles for sale. These cars & trucks (on consignment) attract a great deal of attention from passing motorists. It’s not uncommon to be in the middle of a haircut, and have to wait while Al takes a phone call to discuss a vehicle, or talks with someone from off the street.

The barbershop has been through a lot in it’s many years, including a couple of nasty floods. For some reason, about five years ago, Al and his son decided to give the old place a face-lift. In choosing a color, they chose the most obnoxious shade of pink they could find, though I don’t believe it was intentional. As I thought about this, I decided pink is the perfect color for this grand old barbershop. It is almost like they were saying "Hey…whatcha think of our new fancy paint job?"

One Saturday morning, my wife and I brought our youngest son Matthew, to Al’s for his first "official" haircut. On the way, we told him to sit up straight, and not move around while he was in the barber chair. We reminded him about the candy jar Al kept by the water cooler, and his stillness would result in a tasty reward. The candy jar is always kept well stocked, and very popular with the younger patrons. Matthew barely moved during the whole ordeal, and nearly fell asleep as a result. Haircut completed, he rushed to the candy jar, and was quite content during the ride home.

Al’s Barbershop is more than a place to get a haircut; it is a place to remember how things worked, before we made life "better." Where you went to meet your neighbor, and simply see how they were was getting along. Stop by and you’re likely to see a local farmer, come by to shoot the breeze. They’re wearing muddy shoes, and an orange baseball cap with a perfectly straight brim. They talk a lot about "so-and-so" said this and "so-and-so" did that. You don’t know these "so-and-so’s," but it really doesn’t matter. You’re there to share your own stories, and, oh yeah, get a haircut.