Sunday, February 20, 2022

End of a Local Era

 My barber has closed his shop.  It's the end of a 63-year era here in my little town.  It's an example of what's happening everywhere.

I've been going to Tim's shop for about 20 years.  He ran a one-man barbershop that his father established 63 years ago.  It was very much a Norman Rockwell place.  It was a small storefront in a 100-year-old string of buildings on Main Street in Mars Hill.  There was a barber pole out front, of course, and the "Mars Hill Barbershop" was hand-painted on the front window.  Inside, there were two barber chairs, although one of them hadn't been used in all the time I went there, and looked like it hadn't been used for a few decades prior to that.  His German Shepherd was the welcoming committee and receptionist.  If you got on the dog's good side, you were good forever, and everybody got on the dog's good side as long as you liked dogs.  

Tim knew everybody in a 10-mile radius.  He'd grown up in Mars Hill and worked alongside his father in the shop until the older man retired.  Tim took it over and made no changes whatsoever.  Well, except that might have been when it went from a 2-chair operation to a 1-chair.  Tim is very funny and very personable.  If you want to know what's going on in the neighborhood, you went to get a haircut at Tim's.  You'd sit in the ancient waiting chairs, along with however many other guys were there, and joined in the conversation.  Everybody pitched in.  It might be about the mystery construction project down by the interstate, or Jimmy Smith's herd of cows needing haybales, or Frank's parents in the local nursing home (an X-rated and hilarious discussion if there ever was one).  There was no sitting there and reading magazines, even though there were plenty, all from ten years ago.  

But the number of people going to Tim's has been slowly dropping for years.  Older guys died off and fewer younger ones came.  Almost all the college boys went to styling salons down in Weaverville or Asheville.  Tim got a part-time job at a big-box store to help pay the bills.  As the barber business slowed, he increased his hours at the big-box.  And this year, when the rent went up significantly, he threw in the towel and retired.  And 63 years of barbering in Mars Hill came to an end.

I knew it was coming, but last week I went in to get a haircut and the store wasn't there anymore.  Everything inside was gone, along with the barber pole and bench outside.  A sign on the window announced the closure.  It was so sad to see.  So I made an appointment at a place down in Weaverville.  It's a franchise operation, brightly lit, lots of chairs and ladies cutting hair.  Everybody waiting was staring at their phones and nobody was talking.  Well, I was, anyway, once I got in the chair, and the lady cutting my hair seemed to be glad to have somebody to talk to.  And, of course, it was a decent haircut at a decent price.

So another old neighborly business is gone, replaced by an anonymous franchise operation.  Progress?  No.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Car Stuff

 Now for something completely different ...

Last September, while driving on the interstate, we ran over a piece of metal.  It banged up the passenger door pretty badly and ripped several pieces of trim off the side.  Fortunately, there was no structural damage and we could continue to drive the car with no problems.  Unfortunately, parts and shipping availability meant that it was five months before the shop had everything they needed to do the repairs.  We dropped the car off last week and picked up a rental. I thought we got lucky: they had a Mini Cooper on the lot.  Very cool!  I'd never driven one before.  I signed the papers and off I went.

I hated it.

As it turns out, Minis have the most unintuitive and annoying controls you can imagine.  Things you'd expect to be manual are electrical, and things you'd expect to be electrical are manual.  The shift lever doesn't operate the way any other shift lever does.  The infotainment system requires multiple button punches just to get beyond the "don't operate this while you're driving" alerts.  Brakes are grabby.  The engine shuts down when the car is stopped, then starts up again as soon as you put your foot on the gas, meaning there's a slight delay between your foot and actual movement, which could be critical in squeezing into traffic.  The "fasten your seatbelt" alarm is particularly annoying.  The door has a tinny sound when it's pulled closed.  

This was a Mini Cooper Countryman, which meant it was like a Mini that ballooned in size.  It's way bigger than a Mini should be.  It's much taller than my Mazda 3 and is more like a mid-sized Subaru.  It's a Massive Mini.  It even feels top-heavy in corners.  It just feels ... wrong.  It's not mini at all.

The good points?  It handles like a go kart and is a gas miser.  

I might have liked a real Mini, especially one with a stick shift, and one that didn't shut off the engine at stoplights.  I might've been able to put up with all the other annoyances.  But all together, no.  My Mazda is an infinitely better car.  And the next time I need a rental, I'll go for anything else.