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Trip to barber shop is a social experience

I know we have cell phones, e-mail, twitter, etc., but do we still communicate? Losing that personal contact is the rule of the day. I just returned from a visit to my local barber shop. As usual, it was a most enjoyable experience.

It is not a place where you just go to get a haircut. Going there is a life experience. This shop in the Southgate Plaza and several others in the area are unfortunately dying out. But the barbers here actually know what scissors are used for and they can deftly use a straight razor. These are tools that are foreign to national franchise shops or, as they like to call themselves, salons.

The barbers who practice their craft at my shop are now in their 60s and 70s, and I wonder how much longer they will be available. What would I do, because here is where I get a great haircut, hear all of the local scoop and meet and talk to so many friends.

The seven barbers who seem always to be on duty can give you a lesson in history because they have met and talked with people from all walks of life -- they have heard all the stories.

You could talk to John, who at one time had a shop in the Statler and cut all the bigwigs' hair. Or Ron, who freely expresses conservative views. In between these two is my buddy Mike, who is also a great musician and has been cutting my hair for 40 years.

Mike and I know everything about each other's families and we update each other every two weeks. He and Ron are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but they get along just fine. Two chairs over is Nick, the clown prince of the shop. Nick has a new joke or stunt every time you visit.

You will meet a variety of people here. Like George, the Marine, who will describe for the thousandth time the landing at Iwo Jima; or Mike, the young police officer there with his son; or the young mother with her three boys who don't want haircuts; or one of the town employees complaining about local politicians. Then there are the retired steel workers, who describe how they lost their health insurance and pensions.

One thing that is generally agreed upon is the dislike for all politicians. Now if a politician really wanted to get the pulse of the people, he would hang around his local barber shop.

I fear this wonderful piece of Americana will disappear from the scene in the next 10 years. Oh, you still will be able to get a haircut, but what about the social experience? What about the friendships developed over so many years with the barbers and fellow patrons? There will be no more joking around, meeting your friends and neighbors and railing against the politicians. The enjoyment of the visit will be gone.

Cell phones, twitter and e-mail can't duplicate this social experience. People walk around with their phones making small talk with others, but without that face-to-face contact, they never know how their conversation is received.

When they arrive home, they immediately get on the computer and check their e-mail or Facebook account. All this is done without any personal contact. They won't actually see if those they are contacting are actually interested in hearing from them. No matter, since they have hundreds of Facebook friends.

I wonder: Is this actually progress? I have a suggestion. The next time you want to communicate with someone, go to a barber shop and talk to real people. Soon it will be time for me to get another haircut and see Mike. He took way too much off last time.

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