On Wednesday I finally did something that I have wanted to do since moving to Atlanta: I got a haircut at a serious barbershop. Once, in Ann Arbor I took the advice of a coworker and went to an old barbershop for a haircut. The main selling point was the conversation and the ambiance. I don’t remember too much about that particular haircut and maybe that says something. I thought the guys in there would be talking amongst themselves, bringing me into their conversations about the game last night or the latest current events. Why is it (and I feel this is strongly an American thing) that we try to romanticize everything and turn it into a Utopian experience, even a haircut. I think it has something to do with the movies and how they help us define Utopian haircuts.

The Faith Barbershop in the Edgewood Retail District is where I went on Wednesday in search of the perfect haircut. I introduced the experience as a visit to a serious barbershop but what I really mean is a black barbershop.Atlanta is nearly two-thirds African American (to use the parlance of our times) and is consistently regarded as one of the best cities in the US in terms of opportunities for black Americans. A great part of moving to a vibrant city is the opportunity to incorporate part of the other cultures around you into your own. Again, I romaticize.

I have to say that this experience was much more enjoyable than the trip to the Ann Arbor barbershop and definitely better than Supercuts or my waiting room visits to fancy salons where Lauren is getting her hair cut. As I parked my bike outside next to another bike a guy came out of the shop to talk to me. It was his bike next to mine and immediately we were talking about riding around town, accidents, and pants vs. shorts. Soon we introduced ourselves and we stepped inside so that Kenneth could give me a haircut.

One thing I’m always bad about is giving instructions to people giving the haircut. and this time was especially confusing. Usually you could just say a number on the side, and a bit longer on top (that’s Supercuts lingo) but here the guards all have different numbers, so I was off to a poor start. I told Kenneth that he could do what he thought was best and not to be afraid, because it would grow back. He said, “Shiiiiitt. I want you to come back.”

Another thing that I’m still learning about haircuts is that you have to go to someone that knows your kind of hair and style. I was first introduced to this at my job at GDOT when I learned that some black women go to the salon every week and then don’t wash their hair. Then last week Lauren was pointing out how not all short haircuts are the same and the importance of going to a skilled stylist when you are girl with short hair. Anyway, I estimate that the expertise of the black barbershop is the fade. They spent a good deal of time on this. The fade should be kept tight and clean thus people come back often to get them taken care of.

They had a tv on and one guy was just sitting over in the corner reading a book, but most of the guys were all talking. At one point Kenneth took a break from cutting my hair to act out someone running and having to pull their pants up. That was part of discussion about how the kids wear their pants so low. “At that point, you’re basically making yourself a one armed man” said one Master Barber. They also have cards that they give to customers and they say things like ‘Master Barber.’

I even got dissed because I move my head around so much, apparently like a 6 year old. Kenneth talked mostly to me about his apartment, his failed marriage (a topic people like to dive into after hearing that I am happy in mine) and bike rides. At the end I felt like I usually do in foreign situations, I didn’t know what to do. Someone had already had his fade finished and was sticking around to chat and hang out. Do you have to be invited for that? How much to tip? In the end, I handled it like every other haircut situation and everything worked out. So maybe all the nuance I expected, all the new culture, the Utopian bliss of Faith Barbershop was in my head and getting a haircut is really just that, a haircut. We’ll see next week when I go back to get this fade tightened up.

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