Monday, March 20, 2006

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

My old barber in Louisville is hanging up his clippers. Wilbur “Wib” Scarboro was the Claude Russell of Louisville. He started “cutting heads” in 1956 and was a downtown institution for half a century. His son is helping him clean out the old place, selling 50 years worth of barbering equipment, and memories, on eBay.

I used to tell the story of the first time I went to Wib’s. The place was packed and I turned to leave - I was on my lunch hour - when all the regulars yelled, in unison, “You’re next.” No one else was there to get a haircut, just to chat. Here’s part of a story I wrote about Wib. He’s also in my book about barbershops, “Do Bald Men Get Half Price Haircuts?”

Here’s the story:

Wib Scarboro's Barbershop on Fifth Street is a three-chair shop, room enough for three barbers. But it's down to one barber now: Wib. The other two chairs remain, a reminder of flusher times.

On this Thursday in September regulars are perched in the two empty barber chairs. The waiting room is full, too, save for one solitary chair.

A visitor would be tempted to turn around and head elsewhere, rather than fight the wait. But the visitor who pushes open the door this afternoon is greeted with a hearty chorus of "You're next!"

Wib Scarboro's Barbershop may be full, but no one's there for a haircut. They've come for the company and it is available in abundance on this afternoon.

"Open the door to this barbershop and the lies just pour out onto the street." says Don Miller, a long-time customer. "This is the place for decent haircuts and great stories," jokes Wib-regular Miller. And the crowd whoops. "Wib doesn't give a haircut worth a damn but the conversation is wonderful," he adds.

Wib Scarboro is not one to take a punch without fighting back. "Don, I've seen better heads on cabbage....I've seen better heads on a ten cent beer." And the crowd whoops some more.

Barbershops have been around at least since the days of Samson. In fact the crowd at Wib's might say he's been around that long, too. Not quite. Wib Scarboro's shop has been in existence since 1880, in the same location since 1935. Wib's been cutting hair there since 1956.

Ben Bodie, an industrial fan salesman from South Carolina, is in the chair at Wib's. He has been directed to the place from the Delta Lounge on Market. Bodie is on a lifelong quest to find America's best haircut. "Last month I got one in Detroit. Before that San Francisco." And how does Wib compare? "This young man's got a steady hand and he knows what he's doing." The crowd suggests the steady hand is because Wib just had a shot of a refreshing beverage. Bodie appreciates the humor but he wants everybody to know, Wib knows his stuff. "I guess the next time I need a haircut I'm gonna have to figure out a route back through Louisville.

…Scarboro says, "Once my son asked to borrow twenty bucks - he wanted to see the Beatles. I said you got to be kidding. They caused me to starve for about ten years."

…School is letting out and young boys are lining up along the walls in the barber shops around town. Except at Wib Scarboro's. Wib is putting his clippers back in the drawer. He says he has the best hours of any barber cutting hair in Louisville: "Monday through Friday 8 to 2, or whenever I get tired or someone wants to go fishing or squirrel hunting."


At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Brian Daniel said...

Mr. Staten - My friend and I enjoyed your reference to the Delta Lounge. I'm not sure how long it's been around, but it seems it would have its own stories to tell - it looks like it's from another era (at least, that's what the decor says). Brian Daniel - Louisivlle, KY


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