Scenes from the barbershop black market in California
Like many Americans, I began this week in dire need of a haircut, and I couldn't have been more thrilled to discover that two counties near mine in California have now famously decided to buck the state's reopening guidelines; wrestle back a piece of their liberty (imagine that!); and open some restaurants, salons, and the like.
Naturally, I looked up some places to get a cut. I googled "barber" along with the name of a town that is over an hour's drive away in Yuba County. Most were closed, and I finally saw one that showed as open, and called, asking the woman who answered if they were indeed open for business. "We can't be open; it's against the law," the woman told me. I told her that's a shame, because I'd heard that there was some leeway for barbers to be open, in spite of this nonsensical lockdown. She agreed about the lockdown being nonsense, and we had something of a friendly chat before I said I'd love to get a cut, but thanks anyway.
"I'm cutting," she said very quietly. "That's what I've been trying to get across," she said with a light chuckle, apparently referencing some cues in the conversation that I had missed. Suddenly, I felt as though my search for a barber in 2020 had made me the modern equivalent of a drunk trying to find a speakeasy in 1920.
She asked where I'd be driving from, and I told her the name of my town, which she didn't recognize. Then, when I referenced my proximity to Sacramento, she laughed and said, "I'm in Washington, you don't wanna drive that far." Apparently, my web search had found some shops located in cities of the same name in other states, and I'd accidentally tapped her number on my iPhone's browser. I wished her the best and searched on.
Then, as luck would have it, I found another shop that was listed as open — but it wasn't in one of those counties that had reportedly opened for business. This one, however, wasn't nearly as far away. I called and scheduled an appointment for Wednesday morning.
The shop is located in a historic downtown area of a city in northern California, and it was clearly open for business. I immediately loved the joint, I must admit. It was the quintessential American barber shop, and you know the kind of place I'm talking about — sports memorabilia everywhere, loud but friendly and inclusive conversation, and where your cut includes getting cleaned up around the ears with a warm lather and straight razor. In fact, aside from the ample space between the chairs inside, you might not have known that there was an unprecedented pandemic going on outside, save for some of our conversation about how the lockdown was affecting our lives.
The fellow cutting my hair appeared to be about 60 years old, and we had a good conversation. During, I asked how long they've been able to be open, and he said, "I'm not sure we ever really closed," though he admitted that business did slow down for a short while. That's awesome, I said, being genuinely happy that he has been able to ply his trade in violation of California's stupid standing orders, and that they'd avoided having the stereotypical community narcs and Karens informing on them to the authorities.
I tipped healthily and was happy to do it. And it occurs to me that the feeling I felt as I walked out into the California sunshine with a fresh haircut and having talked to some nice people that I didn't know before, face-to-face, was definitely a feeling of happiness. Call it nostalgia, or the pure Americana that we associate with the barber shop, whatever, but I thought of my dad taking me to the local barber shop when I was a kid in Texas, and this felt much the same — except the Houston Oilers pennants were replaced with Raiders ones.
The feeling was short-lived. On the way home, I made the mistake of stopping by Costco in my own town, where I've shopped once or twice a week since the pandemic began. What has struck me about the progression of my experiences there has been that the restrictions have become more restrictive over the weeks ("mind others' space" became stickers on the ground to space out carts, which became standing in line for 20 minutes to get inside, etc.), despite the fact that the news around COVID-19 has only gotten better over time.
I had apparently missed the news that Costco had implemented a mask policy for all customers on May 4, and as I went to show my card to the masked gatekeeper as always, I was informed that, this time, I needed a mask to shop inside. "If you don't have one in the car," she said, offering a mask, "you can use this one, but try to remember it next time."
"No, thanks," I said, and turned to walk to my car. As I walked away, she told me, "We don't like it, either. Sorry." I believed her.
Actually, I had a bandana in my pocket. I was ready to put one on to get a black market-haircut, if it had been required, but in that moment, I was feeling a little too free to even consider putting it on to do something that I'd done so many times before without one.
And, just like that, my euphoria about the taste of normalcy I'd experienced reverted back into the frustration about the stupidity of the present.
"They're making a mistake," says Gavin Newsom about California's Sutter and Yuba Counties opening for business before he thinks they should. But in California, particularly, Gavin Newsom spearheaded all of these nonsensical policies based upon the assumption that California might be nearing 25 million cases and 1 million deaths by now. As Californian Victor Davis Hanson reminds Laura Ingraham, "we only have 50,000 cases, and 2,200 dead; it's off by a huge magnitude." He also notes that the "credentialed class" that is calling for and implementing national and statewide lockdowns "have been wrong about almost everything."
Given that they've been wrong about nearly everything, those same government officials are in no position to continue telling us that we can't legally do the simplest things in life, like buying a haircut from our neighbors who want to sell one.
Photo credit: Public domain pictures.