Hey George, how you doin’?” I offer as the door creaks shut behind me. My barber gives me a knowing look as he turns around from his current customer. “Dan!” he says. “How ya’ been, I haven’t seen you in a while.” Translation: “I know you went somewhere else for your last haircut.”
I sit down for a trim as the guilt floods my senses. We chat. I pay. I leave. But as I walk out, the guilt walks with me.
This exchange happens about once a year for me at Joe’s Barber Shop in Wilmington. My mom took me there when I was 10 and I never stopped going. I liked the way George cut my hair, and I’ve gone to Joe’s roughly once a month—come hell or high water.
We all look for a bond of trust, even with something as trivial as a haircut. If the stylist does a good job, we’ll return. On occasion, the trust is breached. We’re out of town or there’s another shop that’s closer. Joe’s has long lines during my lunch breaks, so the timing can be challenging and I have to go somewhere else. So naturally I feel guilty the next time I go to Joe’s—after I’ve cheated on George.
I’m exaggerating. The average barber shop serves dozens of clients on a good day—and maybe even on a bad one. I doubt stylists can keep track of everybody. I worked at a Starbucks for almost three years and I had trouble remembering my regulars’ names.
Nevertheless, you know when you’re on a business’ radar. There’s a way to tell at Joe’s. If you’re waiting in line and decide to go outside, George will follow you, assuring you that the wait won’t be long. I’ve seen him do this countless times in the past 15 years. George will drop everything and pop out the front door like an NFL running back hitting the hole.
So why do I live in Delaware? It’s this mutual sense of accountability between local business owners and clientele. There’s something to be said for feeling at home when I walk into a favorite bar, restaurant—or barbershop.
When I get my hair cut somewhere else, when I cheat on George, I honestly don’t know what to tell him. I just hang my head in shame.