|Pop's Barbershop in Port Charlotte, Florida|
My favorite barber opens the doors of Pop’s Barber Shop in Port Charlotte, Florida at 8am three days a week. His chair is the first of four. Linda, Andy and Mary Jo arrive at nine. To stroll in later in the morning risks an awkward-feeling interaction.
“No thanks, I’m waiting for Rick”
There’s no attitude. They get it. Rick’s father owned Pop’s when Rick was still in barber school. Fifty-two years later, he is the main event, and there’s only so many haircuts left in this Port Charlotte legend, now in “semi-retirement.”
I recently let my hair grow a couple of weeks past the onset of bad-hair days in order to get a meaningful cut in a traditional setting.
“Is it like Floyd’s?” asked my brother-in-law.
It is in fact very much like the iconic barbershop from the Andy Griffith show. And therein lies its magic and charm. Getting your haircut at Pop’s feels a lot like stepping back in time. I fondly recall Saturday morning trips to the barber shop with Dad. It was at a time in my life when I needed a booster seat to be hoisted to the proper level in a leather and metal hydraulic chair.
As a kid, I watched in fascination as scruffy, serious men leaned back, faces soaped and hot towels applied, for a shave with a safety razor. Whiskers disappeared in neat swaths, like snow being carefully shoveled from a white, blanketed driveway, and the stoic mid-1960s men couldn’t help but smile after the cleanup was complete. This traditional, self-indulgent pampering on a day off in the company of peers was clearly a treat. So on my recent trip to Pop’s I decided to up my game and get an old-fashioned shave.
I do not have a heavy beard, and have always used an electric razor. It does a quick and adequate job, but falls far short of the close shave that results from lather and steel. Rick informed me that his first razor cost $125, decades ago, before the advent of, in his opinion, inferior stainless steel. He prepared a hot, wet towel, arranged his equipment behind me, carefully removed my glasses and reclined me in the antique chair.
It’s hard to imagine being at ease with a stranger holding an exquisitely sharpened blade to your throat. Overcoming that anxiety is a trust-fall, a deliberate mental release into the capable hands of a seasoned professional. What followed was a womb-like series of room-darkening hot, wet towels that comforted and relaxed my face from chin to forehead. The realization that my fists were nervously clenched, much like at the dentist, reminded me to allow full body relaxation to take hold.
When my pores were sufficiently opened and my beard softened, Rick gently brushed on a thick cocoon of soothing natural-oil, emollient lather to the lower half of my face. It made me feel like a large scoop of melting butter pecan ice cream under a minty mound of warm whipped cream. During the next twenty minutes, the delicate passage of metal over skin sent scritching echoes through my head, amplified by the bones in my jaw. It was evidence of the work being done, and an indicator of a sufficiently smooth face when the noise subsided.
The final step was a bracing aftershave lotion that in Rick’s words were, “the eye-opener” – the unexpected flame-thrower that young Kevin reacts to in “Home Alone” with an open-mouthed camera-facing scream. As a forewarned adult, I was able to suppress my inner child's reaction while the icy needles in my face subsided. As I returned to an upright position and put on my glasses I realized that, much like the men I had witnessed in my childhood, I too had a big smile on my face. It was as enjoyable an experience as I’ve ever had in public.
As Rick spun me slowly around to view his handiwork in the shop-facing wall of mirrors, I remembered Dad standing behind me, looking approvingly over my shoulder, but in fact handing me the decision-making reins.
“How’s that look, Sport?”
I smiled and said, “That looks good!”
“Hipsters” are re-discovering traditions with roots in our distant past. Among them are beards, whiskey and cigars. I suspect they think they’re onto something new and are applying their signature with a few twists of their own, like skinny jeans and bow ties. Some are comical, but a few are right on the money. The more things change…
Soon I hope to treat my son to an old fashioned shave. He grew up in the era of Great Clips and Supercuts, and never met my dad. The girls have their mani-pedis and spa days, but it’s time for the boys to get a shave like Grandpa. Who knows, maybe we’ll even throw back a whiskey and smoke a cigar.
We never shared the “Floyd’s” experience when he was a kid. That particular father/son bonding experience is mostly a thing of the past. But the past lives on at Pop’s, and thanks to the advanced age of many customers in Florida, it will continue for at least a while longer.