When I awoke this morning, there was plenty to be grateful for. The thick, dark rainclouds that loomed overhead last night had drifted away over the steep rolling hills that surrounded me. My camp was dry thanks to a giant canopy that i had stumbled upon in the midst of the Hungry Valley Reservation, and I felt a deep sense of accomplishment because it was my 300th day on the road.
Todays journey began in Gorman, California, and I was excited about the variety of terrain that awaited me to the west in the Los Padres National Forest. Throughout the morning, I had my normal ups and downs with varied weather conditions and confusing route changes, but I never suspected what would happen as the day unfolded.
As I rambled through the mountains, I exercised caution because of the many sections of road that hid small patches of black ice. Ruckus was bundled up under his blanket, and slept soundly throughout the morning. I stopped for lunch just outside the city of Taft, where the temperature had risen significantly due to a steady decline in the elevation.
I started off my afternoon by making a wrong turn on route 166, which led me east past large orchards and fenced in oil fields. There was so much to see on this road, that I didn’t realize my blunder until 25 miles later. Instead of backtracking, I dug out my map and figured an alternate route back toward Taft. As I rode along through towns with funny names like Weedpatch and Pumpkin Center, I tried to calculate how far I'd be able to go with the amount of light remaining.MORE...
When I was a young boy growing up in Weymouth, getting a haircut wasn’t something to look forward to. It meant consumption of valuable playtime on Saturday morning, followed by an itchy sensation in my shirt all afternoon and finally the dreaded Saturday night bath to rinse the loose hairs away before settling down to watch Donnie & Marie.
As the years went by and my routine changed, it became my responsibility to get a haircut. There were a variety of barbershops in South Weymouth at the time and they all were about the same distance from my house. There was Dick’s, Mike’s, two different Al’s and a salon of sorts on the first floor of the Chauncy Building. I narrowed down the field by the quickness in which the barbers had me in and out of the chair. I had tried each shop a number of times, but I eventually found the one for me.
Across from the Stetson Building, on what’s known as Ruggles Block, Al had his barber shop in a brick building with a giant front window. Often times, Al stood at the corner of the window with his foot on the sash having a smoke and looking deep in thought. Al’s son Mark was friends with my older brother Mike, so I always felt a kinship of sorts when I went in for a haircut.
Al was a stocky man who spoke with a gravelly voice. He wore a dark blue uniform of sorts and always seem to have a cigarette in his mouth. Al would squint his eyes and hold his head at an angle to avoid the smoke that wafted continuously around the chair while simultaneously clipping away at my hair. My favorite thing about Al was that he was incredibly quick but equally precise,. because of these qualities, it didn’t seem like a hassle anymore to get a haircut.
Al passed on some time ago and since then ownership has changed hands. As a result, I started to roam again from barber to barber trying to find an adequate replacement. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been in Weymouth, but my search continues nation wide. Sometimes I’ll go five or six months between haircuts, because I’m a chronic procrastinator. I don’t wait till I’m having a bad hair day, but more like a bad hair month.
I got a haircut in Salt Lake City, Utah last September at a Mormon barbershop and it was an interesting experience. The barbers sat on a long bench like bellhops at a fancy hotel and when a customer entered one would spring to his feet to assist. It was the first barbershop I’d seen where barbers consistently outnumbered the customers. A clean cut man began his routine of seating me and then draping my clothing with a poncho. Once I got settled in, he then asked what my religious background was. I thought for a moment he might ask me a trick question like “how would I like my hair cut”? As he combed and snipped away at my mop, we had a conversation about world religions. He answered my questions about the Mormon Church and told me of his missionary work in numerous countries. He aspired to teach people about his faith, but at the moment he was between assignments.
The next time I got my hair cut was March of this year in Los Angeles, CA. It was rapidly getting to be a matter of either wear barrettes or find a barber. I started off by asking random strangers “where could I find an old fashioned barbershop”. Most people I surveyed recommended going downtown to the Spanish speaking part of town. The best suggestions I’ve gotten have come from total strangers, so I decided to give downtown a shot.
After a few wrong turns, I ended up in an area known as South Central. It’s springtime here in LA and the fashion conscious in this neighborhood are wearing brightly colored body armor. Luckily I didn’t have to go too far before I spotted the telltale barber’s pole. I parked in front of a mortuary that was having a sidewalk sale and walked past the coffins to the adjoining barber shop. When Lupe wasn’t doing the hair of the deceased, he would take a few live ones in his chair. Over in the corner, a small group of women were crying and comforting each other. I wondered if it was over the quality of Lupe’s work. Apparently, part of his waiting area doubled as the grieving area for the mortuary. I sat and tried to decipher the Spanish tabloids while children ran in and out looking at the stranger who had the funny motorcycle outside.
Lupe was dressed immaculately in wingtip shoes and a silk outfit that made him look more like a bandleader than a barber. He motioned for me to approach the chair and in his best English asked how I would like my hair cut. After describing to him how I wanted my hair cut, he pointed to his own head and said, “just like me”? It was close enough, so I gave him the thumbs up. After getting my hair washed, a big towel was wrapped around my head. Lupe had stepped out to go have a smoke and I wondered how long I would have to sit there looking like a spokesman for the Taliban.
Lupe returned and took out his scissors and got down to business. He danced around the chair like tango music was playing in his head stopping sporadically to comb with dramatic movements. Rather than worry about his eccentricity, I decided to just sit back and watch the show. Older men from the neighborhood came in to drink coffee and children rode their bicycles in and out of the shop, but nothing broke Lupe’s concentration.
We talked a little about our backgrounds to break up the silence that hung in the air. I told him that I had been roaming North America for the last 10 months trying to develop short stories based on people I meet. Lupe reminisced about his convertible that he had forty years ago and the big German Shepherd that loved to ride around town with him.
When he finished, we walked together toward the register and judging by the amount of hair I left on the floor, I expected a pricey bill. Lupe held up a big stack of bills that were business related and said,” I envy you, you’re a free man”. Lupe was tied to his business, it had a strangle hold on his life and he resented it. He said he once had dreams of going places, but now he was immersed in responsibilities. He wouldn’t take my money for the haircut, and as he walked me to the motorcycle, he said “remember to stay free”.
I sometimes forget how differently I live from most people and often my situation is used as a gauge by the individuals I meet to measure their own contentment. I’m not working on a cure for cancer or doing something completely unique, I’m just trying to be true to myself in the pursuit of what makes me happy. This is something that becomes less obtainable with responsibilities, expectations and the duty of family, business and most obviously time. For a while, I’ve felt that what I’m doing is crazy, but most people I meet say I’d be crazy not to give it my best shot. As I rode away, I remembered Lupe’s words, “stay free”.
By: John Segalla
Subject: One For The Road
When I started off this morning on my ride everything seemed to be status quo. The skies were blue , the motorcycle made its normal ticking noise and my life was completely uncomplicated at that very moment. Around noontime, I arrived in a small town, similar to the thousands that I had visited in the past. I had a piece of paper in my pocket that had the name of a man that I had hopes of locating. I didn’t have an address or phone number to go with his name, so finding him could prove to be a difficult task.
My Newspaper Article:
Subject: There’s no bird like a Slowbird
By: John Segalla
For the past two months, I’ve been riding my motorcycle around the vast expanses of desert in Southern New Mexico and Southern Arizona trying to stay warm and everywhere I go I see the slowbirds. This is the term used for people who migrate south to the arid climates of this region. Most are retirees but there are many others who fall victim to their wanderlust, those who have sacrificed everything for the life the road offers.
A few years ago on a motorcycle trip to Maine, I took my picture by a road sign that read “Welcome to Mexico”. With all the negative information that I’ve read or heard through various forms of media, I would have never imagined that someday I’d ride south of the border.
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