Thursday, November 24, 2016

Only in California

Calm and reason appear to have returned to the isolated corners of America. At least they have in the corner that I am visiting.

I am strolling North Oakland, California watching people drink coffee, eat ice cream cones and chat about the weather. Any anxiety over the country having elected a president suffering from HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder) certainly is not evident.

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth continues in places like Washington and New York, but this is California. Surf is up, sun is out and life rolls along through good times or catastrophes.

I step into a short, cramped pedestrian walk named Temescal Alley, which originally housed stables for the horses that drew wagons through the tunnel connecting the San Francisco Bay area with the country east of the mountains.

Temescal Alley has been reborn. The stable doors have been replaced by artsy doorways into boutiques where shop owners not only sell, but craft on site their jewellery and other goods.

Inside the Temescal Alley Barber Shop I find a slice of what I grew up understanding was the real America.

It is a small shop with six chairs, antique style with cast metal foot rests, white porcelain trim and black leather seats and backs. Guys wearing gray-striped barber’s drapes occupy the chairs, getting haircuts, a straight razor shave or beard trim.

Two small dogs sleep in a basket in corner. One of them wears a knitted doggie blanket coat featuring Frosty the Snowman.

The shelf above the dog bed holds a whiskey flask and shot glasses for any customer wishing to enjoy a free shot while waiting for an empty chair. (During Prohibition, people wanting an illegal drink in San Francisco usually could find one in a barbershop).

The waits can be long here. There are no appointments. You just walk in and add your name to the list on a chalkboard by the door. When the place gets busy and seating room is limited you can sit outside on a bench in the alleyway and sip a whiskey and chat with others.

Few customers mind the waits. If you do mind, you should find a quick clip place where your hair is buzzed into shape in 10 minutes.

This place hums with  conversations covering everything from kids to Golden State Warriors’ basketball. Everything, it seems, except the election of Donald Trump, now to be known as vulgarian-in-chief.

It is a flashback to an earlier America when barbershops were gathering places where community news and gossip were exchanged. When life was slower and there was time to think, discuss and exchange information in more than140-word bursts.

Past does meet the present here. The antique shop look is broken by modern Douglas Fir trim and a large skylight with frosted sliding panels. And, most of the barbers – four male, two female – sport tattoos.

The barbershop was opened five years ago by two guys seeking a return to old-style craftsmanship.

Craftsmanship is evident. The barbers take their time with scissors and razors, giving their customers a cleanly sculpted look. Hairlines are shaped with shaving cream and razors. Haircuts usually take 25 to 30 minutes to complete.

Customers pay for the old-style ambience and the close attention to their grooming. A haircut is $30. A  straight-razor shave is $35 and a beard trim $15. No credit or debit cards. Cash only.

The barbershop and other little shops of Temescal Alley are born of the individualism so characteristic of California. Individualism that made it a leader in the entertainment and high tech industries, among other things.

It is an individualism that creates new ideas, new things and cultural changes, many of which usually come our way. Individualism carries Californians through droughts, wildfires and earthquakes. It will carry them through the political earthquake of the 2016 presidential election.

This is Thanksgiving Week in the USA. Friday is Black Friday, the day when millions lay their credit cards on the altars of consumerism.

For some Californians, however, it is Green Friday, and environmental groups have arranged free day passes to 116 state parks.

Green Friday. A day in the woods instead of the malls. Another cool idea.


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