Back in my day, boys didn’t go to “style shops” for haircuts. They went to barber shops and were trimmed by old geezers 30 years old or older. It formed a rite of passage more unyielding than the initiation ceremonies of our distant ancestors. One never forgets the barber shop of his youth and waiting for the nod that bespoke his turn in the seat.
My favorite was “Shorty’s Barber Shop.” It was next to the bus station, on Fourth Street between Walnut and Main. It, of course, served whites only.
It also sat next to the railroad tracks that ran through downtown Pine Bluff. The number of people who can remember the spectacle of a steam engine rolling into town and coming to a stop dwindles daily, but there are those of us who can remember.
It was a veritable cacophony of sounds and sights: an explosion of noise, clamor, discord, dissonance, discordance, uproar, and wild commotion as steam flew from the boiler, the bell rang, the whistle shrieked, couplings clanged, and steel wheels groaned in protest.
Imagine trying to cut a ten-year-old boy’s hair with this going on some 20 feet away.
The barbers didn’t try. They simply stopped, sighed, and waited. I can only imagine the number of tykes who left with both a glaring gap and glaring mother before that lesson was learned. One novice did ask me once whether I wanted a haircut or wanted to watch the train? Even at that early age, I couldn’t imagine a grown person asking such a stupid question.
They don’t make shops like that anymore. The spittoons disappeared ages ago, as did the shoeshine technicians. They no longer shave a man after retrieving a steaming towel from a container and coiling it around his face to soften the beard. Shops aren’t full of men in no hurry for service, more there for the fellowship than for enhancement. I doubt if there is a place around anywhere that would even permit smoking.
And there are no steam locomotives to distract, and this in an age when people need all the distractions they can get. I still have to believe there are those around who would find an arriving steam locomotive more interesting than what’s on their cell phone. Maybe not.
Of course, we hearken back to a day when a calmer world beckoned and, in many ways, life’s choices were more numerous and more alluring. Shorty, the owner of my boyhood shop, told a group assembled there one day about a man who came to him during The Great Depression, claiming to be an experienced barber. Given a chance, he proved it to be so and Shorty took him on.
Things worked well until one day a steam locomotive came into town and stopped. The new barber, in the middle of cutting a man's hair, excused himself for a moment and went out the back door, presumably to use the bathroom at the bus station next door.
The train’s exiting symphony erupted and the group assembled in the shop enjoyed the spectacle of the train’s departure.