May 29, 2008

There's Something About A Barber Shop

Historically, the barber shop was the place where all the ills of the world were solved, all disputes settled, all sporting events adjudicated, and all commiserating done.

When I first came to Atlanta, I was morning drive host at a small black talk station here. One of the first shows I did on the air there was one that kept the phones ringing for more than four hours.

I wanted to find a barber shop. Not a stylist, not a salon, not a unisex or chain establishment, but an honest to goodness, old fashioned barber shop. I wanted to find one with a real barber pole out front that lit up and rotated. I wanted to see a small television set mounted high on the wall in the corner. I wanted to smell blue Barbicide, and hear the sound of a razor being sharpened against a leather strap. I wanted to sit in a chair that the barber jacked up and down with that massive metal handle on the side.

I wanted to find a real barber shop.

Growing up in Gary, Indiana, my dad took me and my brother to the same barber shop he went to as a youngster, Starks' Barber Shop on 25th Avenue just off Broadway, not far from where he grew up. It was a place with a very high ceiling, and unadorned florescent lights up there. There was a black and white TV set on top of the Coke machine in the back, by Mr. Starks' chair.

The layout was very similar to many other barber shops I've been in, in many cities. Mr. Starks had the back chair. There was an older barber -- I can't remember his name -- who worked from the next chair. You didn't want to sit in his chair. His hands were pretty shaky, if I remember right. Dad never took us to him. Anyway, after that, the next chair was held down by Mr. Starks' son, Joe. Joe went to high school with my dad at "Dear Ol' Roosevelt High" just up the street. Finally, the newest barber was relegated to the chair next to the window.

Dad took us to either Joe or Mr. Starks, depending on who was there and how many folks were there on any given visit. Once in awhile, we'd run into my grandfather there -- of course, my granddad always went to Mr. Starks.

The place had an odd, yet comforting smell of Barbicide and barbeque -- there was a rib joint down the block.

There was a vinyl couch and several vinyl chairs there, and an old coffee table that always held old magazines, the last few newspapers, and invariably copies of The Watchtower or Awake dropped off by the local Jehovah Witness, and usually a copy of Muhammad Speaks, dropped off by someone from the Nation of Islam. The Chicago Sun-Times was there most often. Usually it was flipped back to the sports pages, which I would look at while the "old heads" there would solve all the ills of the world and tell each other how to get rich, satisfied and happy at the same time.

That's what I wanted to find here in Atlanta. That started a conversation that was among the best shows of radio I've ever done.

I finally found that barber shop, and believe it or not, it was my wife who found it first, after that show. The layout is similar to what I remember, down to the high ceilings and the TV up on the wall in the corner. When I go in, I go to the guy in the back chair. He and his grandfather own the shop. His grandfather cuts heads two chairs over.

And when I go in, all the guys there solve all the world's problems and disputes -- me, right there along with them.

(Originally posted on

Posted by mhking at May 29, 2008 05:54 PM