It was a brutally cold morning typical of early 2014 – a Saturday in January, I believe. Because my car was snowed in, I decided to take a walk down to my barber shop, Herb’s Place on South Avenue and Berckman Street. As usual, I was going to see Chris the Barber.
Chris, who hails from Montego Bay, Jamaica, had legendary status at Herb’s Place. On an afternoon, you could find seven or more customers waiting for Chris while other barbers sat idle. He took such pride in his every move that his haircuts took longer than the rest, but it was well worth it. Chris knew how good he was, and even took offense if customers switched to another barber – or, on the flip side, switched to him only when their previous barber leaves. “So you only want me when the other guy leaves? Get out of here.” he’d vent to me. Like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, there were certain people whose hair he didn’t like to cut – troublemakers and disloyal customers, mainly. I, for one, made sure to never cross him.
Herb’s Place is open from 6:00am until midnight, seven days per week. Chris worked Monday through Saturday, from 6:00am until early to mid afternoon. His reputation at Herb’s Place was so large that in order to be first in line for a 6 o’clock cut, you had to be there a half an hour early on his working days, unless you wanted to risk waiting anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour or more after opening time to sit in his chair. Clients lined their cars up on the sidewalk to wait for Chris. I’m not making this up.
So, on that bitterly cold morning in late January, you can imagine my surprise when no one was waiting for Chris. “What’s up with that?” I thought. I was even more surprised when someone I didn’t recognize unlocked the door.
“Chris coming in?”
“Nah, Chris doesn’t work here anymore. He left.”
“About a month ago.”
And Chris the Barber was gone. I should have asked where he went right away, but I didn’t as I let the unknown fellow trim me up right there. I’ve been there twice since, and based on what I know about the business, good luck in getting people to tell a continued regular customer where a legendary barber has relocated.
It might not seem significant to some people, but it’s kind of a big deal to lose a barber. Chris had been cutting my hair since the summer of 2009, a year after I cut my locs. Even though I lived in Philly for that first year as his customer, I took the opportunity to get my (then rare) haircuts when I was up in Plainfield for the weekend. We all have connections with our barbers, hair stylist, etc – even people like me who let their fresh cuts become messy before they go back to the shop.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation. While spending a year in France stretching during the years 2010 and 2011, obviously Chris couldn’t be there. I sometimes thought about being very wealthy and flying him in – but that’s neither here nor there. The reality was that I had to get used to a totally different type of barber in France.
In France, many – if not a majority – of the barbers that I came across, and virtually all of the barbers in my reasonable price range, were Arab immigrants from the Maghreb. The profession is viewed by many Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians as a way to gain employment and to be able to immigrate to Europe. Their style of cutting was a lot different than a black barber in the United States. For one, they used only one pair of scissors the whole time, and often a razor blade for the sideburns and beard – rarely ever used electronics. First disappointed, I grew to like their style within several months.
Another big difference was not being able to understand what they were saying. I speak French fluently, but they were speaking Arabic. The banter and discussion seemed so similar to an American barbershop – if only I knew exactly what was going on. The video below shows the scene at a barber shop I went to on the left bank of Rouen, France.
All of that being said, I’m not in Rouen right now. I’m in Plainfield and I want to know where Chris the Barber is. If you have any information, please let me know!
Additionally, If you are a political figure and you point me to the legendary Chris, I will never write another negative word about you.
Nah, you know I’m just playing.