February 22, 2024

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Getting a haircut in the age of coronavirus

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — I never expected to be sporting a mullet again … but then the quarantine hit. 

And oh, it was a glorious mullet. Down the back of my neck, untamed, an old friend from my teen years, back to metaphorically crash on my couch and raid my fridge. Sure, people around me said it looked like “a rat’s nest,” like “stringy spaghetti,” like I had been “smoking in a high school parking lot in 1986 and accidentally stumbled forward through time.” Whatever. Haters gonna hate. 

Still, the hard truth is this: Mullets don’t fly in 2020. Thus, I faced the choice that almost all of us are at this very moment: When the hell am I ever going to get my hair cut again? Granted, it’s not a consequential choice, but it’s an ever-present one. Haircuts violate all rules of social distancing, and really, who cares what you look like during lockdown? 

One day, though, we’re all going to venture back into a barber shop or salon, so let me give you a sense of what it’s like when that day comes, whether it’s this weekend or this fall. 

I live in Georgia, which as we all know is one of the states hell-bent on showing COVID-19 who’s boss. I also live not far from Alpharetta, which was the subject Monday of a devastating (and, for a certain segment of the populace, not at all inaccurate) Washington Post portrait of a population blissfully out of touch with basic CDC guidelines for curtailing the spread of the virus. 

So it was against this “Masque Of The Red Death”-style revelry in the face of pandemic that I ventured out of my home for a haircut. Now, I’ve left the house before, covering Georgia’s tattoo parlors reopening, the first day of Waffle House’s rebirth, and NASCAR’s return. I’ve been a responsible, mask-wearing, sanitizer-dousing American all the way. But you can’t stay socially distanced and get a haircut, can you?

I visited Old School Barber Shop in Alpharetta, which is the platonic ideal of, yes, an old-school barber shop: leather waiting couches, TVs playing dude movies (no sports, alas), stuffed deer head and high school team portraits on the wall, the scent of men’s hair-care products wafting through the air. 

Not so old-school: the face mask, the temperature test, the COVID warnings and constant cleanings. These are the tasks facing every salon now, and for Old School owner Roman Iskhakov, it’s the new cost of doing business. 

“We have to do all this,” he says, pointing at a photocopied sign on the wall noting the state of Georgia’s requirements for salons. “Every customer.” He nods at the waiting area. There are no other customers. 

So why did he reopen? Economics, plain and simple.

“I get about 30 percent of my business [from before the pandemic],” Iskhakov says. “I had three [other] barbers in here, I had to let them go.” 

A Russian émigré 27 years ago, he’s run the Old School Barber Shop for the last 12 years. “I like talking to people,” he says as he works around my mask. “I like cutting hair. I really missed that.”

He’s not the only one missing what once was routine. I was in Darlington on Sunday for the NASCAR race, and when the drivers fired up their engines for the first time, I’m not going to lie — I got a little emotional. You will too, the first time you re-experience something familiar from The Before Times — the sound of your favorite team’s fight song, the scent of your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant, the feel of settling into a seat at a theater. Or the simple sensation of getting a haircut. 

“How long’s it been?” he asks, looking over my hair, with the tone of a dentist lecturing me about flossing. I ask how bad everyone’s hair is these days, and he just laughs. 

Many people are attempting to cut their own hair, which, while not as risky as, say, doing your own surgery, carries its own set of risks.

“I see people coming in here, and they’ve just messed themselves or their kids up so badly,” Iskhakov says, laughing. “It’s not even! It’s a mess! And I have to clean all that up before I can even do anything.” 

(In other words, be very careful with that clipper, friend. You could be setting yourself up for weeks’ worth of coiffure rehab if you’re not careful.)

Georgia’s not alone now in opening up; most states have started relaxing some restrictions. And haircuts appear to be at the top of many people’s to-do lists:

Here’s the thing, though: Georgia allowed barber shops and salons to reopen on April 24, and on that day, Iskhakov says, the line was out the door. But since then? A trickle. Just because the doors are open doesn’t mean people are ready to walk through them. It’s a harsh reality that a lot of businesses are going to face for the coming weeks and months. 

But thankfully, for the sake of my family’s eyes, I’m back to looking cleaned up, which is probably for the best. The mullet has once again gone the way of the cassette tape and the sleeveless concert T-shirt. All the same, tonight I’m going to cue up Rush’s “Moving Pictures,” crack open a cheap beer and raise a toast to the brief reunion I had with an old friend. 


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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