Full disclosure: I get my hair cut by Hermanis Ulibarri, and the code of loyalty between a man and his barber rivals the Blue Wall of the Po Po. So don’t expect the whole truth and nothing but.
One of the first things I do when moving to a new town is search out a suitable site to get shorn, no trivial matter since the wrong decision can result in a mangy mane. Nothing to do but cross yer fingers and, inshallah, the unavoidable trial and error involves as little error as possible. Worst case, it’ll grow back sooner or later.
Thankfully, I hit the jackpot right off the bat in Flag with Ulibarri’s Barber Shop. No surprise, since the omens were favorable. Candy striped barber pole. Check. Miscellaneous kitsch on the shelves. Check. Appropriate signage indicating available services and their pricing (“We Don’t Shave”). Check. In police work they call these things “clues.”
Since the 1920s, 12 North Leroux has been an historic home to haircutting, according to the current owner. Now understand one thing: old school barbering is a dying art. Of course, likely old school anything is on the verge of extinction. Barber School requires real commitment, and truly mastering the craft takes above and beyond dedication.
Ulibarri—as with all experienced, traditionally-trained barbers—performs his clipping and snipping with ease and grace. His flowing motions exude a relaxed confidence. No second guessing here. He knows exactly what to do, the result of decades of practice. Ulibarri automatically chooses the right tool for the job, shears or electric clippers, then wields it with reflexive aplomb and attention to detail. You can relax to the max knowing you are in the hands of a real expert.
Now contrast this with my experience at a Supercuts in southern California a few years back. I asked for a short haircut, tight on the sides, just long enough to part on the top. The young man—or was it a woman, I forget—had to constantly look at a laminated how-to card to select the prescribed plastic clipper length guide, then consult a written recipe frequently to steer the mini-mower over my noggin. The result was a halting and lame-ass ride to a crude and blocky do. The polar opposite of the masterful treatment you’ll get at Ulibarri’s.
Ulibarri is of Basque heritage. (There is a village that shares his last name in northern Spain.) Please allow me a brief digression to say that Ol’ Whitey jest loves Basque food, and if you’re ever in Bakersfield, be sure to eat at The Woolgrowers downtown. To get back, Ulibarri’s distant relatives were Spanish Conquistadores in “The New World.” Fast forward a few centuries, Hermanis Ulibarri grew up in Saint Johns, Arizona, the county seat of Apache County.
You can tell what’s most important to Ulibarri with one look at the myriad photographs on the walls of his shop. Family. (Two sons, two grandaughters, two grandsons, two great-grandsons and one great-granddaughter.) Music. (He plays electric guitar and sings lead vocals. 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, plus Tex-Mex and country.) Cars. (Owned a green ‘56 Chevy Bel Air, a candy apple red ‘63 Ford Falcon Futura with 4-on-the-floor and a yellow ‘65 Mustang convertible with a black top, for starters.) The U.S. Military. (Enlisted in the Army from ‘62 to ’66; served as an 81mm mortar instructor at Fort Lewis, Washington, attaining the rank of Sergeant.)
While waiting to interview Ulibarri and ferret out the aforementioned facts, I watched him complete a classic haircut on a gentleman of a certain age. No wild hair escaped his ministrations. He swiveled the chair back and forth as necessary to ensure every angle was covered, switching effortlessly from comb and scissors to close cropping clippers. Lastly he removed the cloth drape and neck tissue to trim the verges. Not rushing. He took as long as it takes to do the job right.
On Father’s Day 2012—back when I looked like Richard Gere—my daughter and ex-wife bought me the $200 Bill Clinton signature shave and a haircut at the Bellagio in Vegas. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a memorable occasion, and I took a video of it for posterity. That said, Ulibarri does every bit as good for a fraction of the dough. And speaking of money, one last thing: always tip yer barber when satisfied with yer coif. Please and thank you.