Stewart, Style-o-rama, Haight, San Francisco
The end of a three week road trip in California. At every stop on our trip, I’d looked for a barber to get a haircut. Usually, there was not enough time, or there were other priorities. San Francisco was make or break – the hair was out of control.
Whilst my girls browsed the aisles of Amoeba Records (the World’s largest independent record store), I found the Style-‘O’-Rama barber shop in a back street of Haight. Stewart was reclining in one of his barber chairs watching a black and white film on the TV. There were no other customers. I settled in the chair for a clipper cut, number 2 all over, a leisurely Saturday afternoon affair. I had about an hour – “Man, if you left your wife and kids in Amoeba, you’re gonna need longer than an hour – they’ll be in there for 2 or 3 hours and still be in the rock section,” Stewart quipped. He suggested we start the cut with a number 3 and see how that looked.
He was full of stories and wisdom that half a century of dealing with people brings.
“I spend 42 years in this location, and 8 years on Haight before that. I moved from Kentucky when I was 9 years old. My parents had a village store and the county turned dry and they couldn’t sell alcohol so they moved to California.”
The number 3 cut was too long – I don’t have much hair, but what I have grows fast, sticking out perpendicular from my scalp. So Stewart started trimming again. Talk turned to the upcoming US election – I’d noticed the Bernie flyer in his window as I entered. We considered Trump’s chances – this was July 2016, just days before Trump would accept the Republican party’s nomination at the National Convention. He’d already made his famously divisive comments on Muslims and Mexicans, his views on women were still to come. Stewart was adamant, “He ain’t gonna win.“
“10% of the voters are black and they’re not going to vote for him, 20% are Hispanic and won’t vote for him, 51% are women and they won’t vote Trump, 5% are gay and ain’t gonna vote Trump. None of my customers are going to vote for him.” Unfortunately, the passage of time and vagaries of the electoral college proved Stewart wrong. He was right on one thing though – “There’s too much hate in the world.“
The trim was progressing – Stewart was popping mints as he considered some stray ends.
“I don’t have any kids. My customers are my kids. I live my life through them. I don’t need to travel. This morning I’ve been to Paris, this afternoon I’ve been to Hong Kong,” Hong Kong pronounced with slightly Southern, elongated vowels.
He grabbed the mirror to show me the back – neat and with a clean neck, then showed me his clipper, now set to Number 2. “Number 2 it was!” he exclaimed. “You’ve just experienced an old-style barber shop. I never knew I had an old style barber shop – I thought I just had a barber shop.“
After I’d shot a few photos of him standing proudly by his mirror, I gave him a name card and said I’d send a print in the post once I got home. “My wife won’t believe that, getting a package all the way from Hong Kong.” He searched at the back of the shop and gave me a card with his address “Stewart’s Style ‘O’ Rama” in bold letters, “Barber Shop” in smaller font beneath. He also gave me an embossed, plastic, orange ball point pen, a momento of his 50 years’ in the trade.
As I head out of the door to check on the credit card damage inflicted by my family at Amoeba Records, he says “I’ll see you in 2 years. My customers always say that. And when they come back, they always say, “You still here?” and I say, “Are you trying to get rid of me?”“