Thursday, May 17, 2001
Direct deposit. Do-it-yourself check-out lines at Dillons. Gas stations without attendants. Some people call it progress; I call it another way to avoid talking to people.
It seems that in today's society, we strive to bypass human contact as much as possible. Rather than talking to someone, we send an e-mail. Rather than driving to the bank and signing a check and handing it to a teller, we have our employer change a number in a computer system. Rather than taking a ticket from the turnpike guy, we use K-tag and speed along down the road.
I, on the other hand, love talking to people. The voices in my head are a fun group, but they're not enough.
That's why the barber shop is such a wonderful place. Go there, hang out, wait for your turn in the chair, casually skim the sports page and listen to whatever opinions are being slung around along with the hair that falls to the floor. We're all paying customers here, so every opinion is just as valid as the next. It's an age-old tradition, and one that I think will never die.
I couldn't tell you the name of my doctor or anything about him. But I can tell you the names of all the staff at my barber shop, and what every one of them thinks of Elvis Grbac.
All in the family
Five years ago I stumbled upon Amyx Barber Shop, 842 1/2 Mass. The man in charge is Mike Amyx. You can always find him comfortably positioned behind the first chair, meticulously cutting hair and chatting away about whatever sport is in season.
Amyx Barber Shop has always been a family affair. Mike's grandfather, Cecil Amyx, opened the shop in 1942 in the same location it is today. Mike's father, Tom, took over around 1955. Mike began working there in 1975 and eventually moved into the first chair position.
"The best part of my job is getting to talk to people," Amyx says. "It's something we do, getting to know our customers on a personal level." In the 26 years that Amyx has been cutting hair, he's heard his fair share of opinions. From coach Roy Williams to Jimmy the high school track star, every one of them drops a little knowledge on Amyx, and possibly, he gives a little back.
Amyx says that sometimes the conversation he has with his first customer gets carried over all the way until his last customer. You can imagine how focused the topic of choice was last summer when Williams was considering leaving his coaching post at Kansas University.
"We should have had a voting booth in the shop that time last year," Amyx says. "Some people thought he was staying, others thought he was going, and there were all kinds of reasons people had for their decision. It was amazing."
Thank goodness that subject is done, since it gives Amyx a little variety in his life. Right now, the topics of choice are baseball, the upcoming KU football season, KU basketball recruiting and a little NBA draft.
The current situation with the KU athletics director position also is a current hot button. One moment it's good, the next it's bad. Amyx gets it all.
"We have a pretty broad-based group of customers," he says. "But I think we are able to capture the sentiment of the community there."
It's neat to think that 50 years ago, Dr. Forrest "Phog" Allen and a different generation of Lawrence residents chatted about the same things we do today in that same setting.
In fact, directly across from the second chair, you can see a letter signed by Allen. It's one of the many bits of sports memorabilia that clutter the walls. Wilt Chamberlain, the 1988 championship basketball team, the KU baseball teams from who-knows-what year, they're all up on the Amyx Barber Shop walls. Each time you go in it seems possible to spot something you never noticed before. The photo collection is so vintage and diverse that Amyx isn't even totally sure what's up there.
"One of the things about all the pictures on our walls, we get people that bring their kids or their grandkids in just to see the pictures," Amyx says. "You'll hear them say, 'There's your dad' or 'There's your grandpa.' It's fun. The people will point it out to us and identify the people in the photos for us."
So is Amyx a good barber? Heck, I don't know. He's never cut my hair. I always go to the second chair and have Kim Shoemaker go at it. Amyx and I disagree on enough sports politics that I figure I'm safer in the next chair. Although I did learn the hard way not to defend Eric Chenowith while sitting in Shoemaker's chair. The conversation was so heated that I ended up walking out with a much shorter haircut than normal. But Shoemaker proved her point.
The barber shop is a place where you can go and learn something new every visit. A classic example was in the movie "Coming to America" with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. Murphy asks the barber shop owner what it takes to attract women. He learns from the barber not only that the key to a woman is through her father, but also, according to Frank Sinatra, that Joe Louis was 137 years old when he fought and lost to Rocky Marciano. That's stuff you can't get anywhere else.
The barber shop isn't one of those places where you avoid human contact. The best thing is the information and the opinions that get tossed around while you're there. If you listen, there's no telling what you'll learn.
So keep rolling through your automatic check-out lines, go ahead and try to "say" hi in an e-mail. Meanwhile, at the barber shop, there's never a break in the conversation.