I hope that I’m working on my last job. At least my last full-time gig. I’ve made a few trips to my hometown lately and I’m waxing nostalgic, instead of my car. I’ve had some good jobs, a great job and some “treading water” jobs. A couple of my best jobs were ones I had working up to my first full-time job. Can’t we just stay young and keep the real world at arm’s length? Since that didn’t work and I ventured out into the world to hunt and gather everyday, I can look back, find my can of wax and be nostalgic.
My first job as a kid was a paper route. Most boys delivered newspapers at some point and my route was not the most convenient route because it was a combination of two different areas. The only way to get from one part of the route to the other was to ride along a highway, which was unpopular with my parents, so that job was short-lived.
The next job I had was cleaning up a barber shop, five times a week. This job had actually belonged to my good friend Wayne, but when he joined the football team I inherited his job, which lasted me three years. The barber shop was located up the hill from where I lived, at the Hillcrest Shopping Center.
In the 1960s, shopping centers were new to America. Hillcrest was a bustling center of commerce serving what was then the western part of my town. The center was anchored by Rusty’s, a grocery store, a bowling alley, Raney’s Drug Store, and Duckwalls’, a department store. There were a few more stores configured in several buildings comprising the shopping center. Later, three movie theaters were developed at one end, along with a two-story billiard parlor and private club. Across the street was Centennial Park, a 35-acre city park with a Polaris missile and decommissioned jet. The missile and jet were later removed, deemed inappropriate or dangerous for kids. Obviously not as safe as lawn darts.
As a kid, going to the Hillcrest was a great treat. A kid could purchase most anything there from candy to sodas to toys. The bowling alley had an arcade with pinball machines and other ways to use up your allowance.
In the shopping center was a music store called “The Sound” that sold records and stereos. The attraction was their collection of 45 rpm records, priced under one dollar, and offering the top songs of the week. I still have some of those recordings but they aren’t in very good shape.
After Wayne turned his job over to me, I had a steady weekly source of income, which for a junior high school kid was essential. The job itself was easy, fill the soap dispensers, take the used towels and put them in a bin and sweep up the mounds of hair along the floor.
Working at the barber shop was a real education. There were three permanent barbers and one, sometimes two, part-time barbers. The owner of the shop delivered Kansas City Times and Star newspapers, and only occasionally cut hair. Usually, he came in on Saturdays to go over accounts and give me my earnings for the week.
During the summer months I tended to hang around the shop during the day, soaking up the conversation and the many hijinks that grown men foisted upon each other. The three guys who worked there were good guys, they got along well with each other and never lacked for interesting stories. Wayne (a different Wayne), Dick and Doug were like uncles, they watched out for me and paid me to run errands for them. They enjoyed telling me about their younger days and were free with the advice. This was back in the day when everybody smoked and on more than one occasion I was dispatched to buy smokes for one of the barbers, but I couldn’t talk them into letting me buy a Playboy magazine for them.
Usually, they sent me across the parking lot to Raney Drug Store. I can still recall the smell of the drug store that had a working lunch counter, cosmetics, candy and a magazine rack. The merging of those different products, along with the cold air conditioning in the summer put the senses on active duty. As young boys, we had an obligation to sample the new edition of Playboy, although we were forever concerned with getting caught by one of the women working the registers close by. We lived dangerously.
The barber shop was like a general store, regular customers came in, news of the day was discussed and it even provided some fellowship. There was a nice supply of comic books and newspapers, and I gained an appreciation of the country music that usually played on the radio. Paul Harvey provided “The Rest of the Story” many days I was there.
Hillcrest Shopping Center was a playground, although I doubt the merchants would have appreciated it. An afternoon working our way from business to business we could eat enough candy, purchases a model plane or comic book, play some pinball, and irritate enough sales ladies to feel very fulfilled and also ruin my dinner. I still irritate sales ladies and ruin my dinner, so not much has changed.
Rusty’s IGA was good for stocking up on donuts from the bakery or begging treats when shopping with my mother. At Rusty’s you could catch the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile or other cultural phenomenons. Years later, a television film used Rusty’s as a location. I was an extra in the film. In one scene, I was pushing a loaded shopping cart, so it might have been my cart at the left edge of the screen. In the movie I’m visible (although for a second or two) but not in this screenshot.
Wayne, Dick and Doug catered to a cross-section of customers. Most of their customers did not go there to have their hair styled, that was a new concept. There were styling shops that catered to both men and women, but this was still mostly a traditional barber shop. I can recall that a few of the regular customers started to wear their hair over the tops their ears and below the collars. This was the early 1970s and longer hair was not just a youth thing. You could be stylish, just not a damn hippie.
In my early teens the world was this grand adventure that I couldn’t wait to begin. In the three years that I worked at the barber shop I did a lot of changing. I was tempted to say “growing up” but I know that’s debatable. This was more than 45 years ago, and the shopping center and I have both aged, although one of us more gracefully than the other. For those of you who know me, I’ll let you decide.