A Diamond in the Rough

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

One fateful day on the Richmond Bridge..

I was driving. It was a perfect summer morning. The sun was shining and I’m sure plenty of birds outside were chirping. 

…and I was furious inside. 

At least, the mocktail of emotions circling inside made me wonder if I was furious. Maybe it was just excitement, fear, and wonder racing each other to the finish line. 

Whatever I was feeling in that moment, it wasn’t stopping me. I was on a mission. My car and I were headed to a place we didn’t know existed. 

As we gained speed I could see my home starting to looking smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. There was no turning back. This quest needed to reach its destiny.

Why was I driving so dramatically to the East Bay? What prompted so many emotions? 

Well, to put it simply: I needed a haircut and I was fed up. The person who I’d been going to for haircuts in my hometown increased their prices. The last haircut was good but the cost didn’t make the juice worth the squeeze. 

It was time for somewhere and someone new. 

Sure, the cost of the last haircut was probably the “going rate” these days. I was feeling stubborn and was willing to invest money in gas and bridge toll to find something better and cheaper. 

Welcome to the East Bay. Somewhere across the bay I was certain existed this magical place. Maybe it was a mirage or just a false hope that this diamond in the rough even existed. 

So there I was, driving deeper into a familiar yet very unfamiliar part of the Bay Area. I was passing Richmond, El Cerritio, and suddenly took an exit in Albany. 

Google Maps was guiding me a “decoy” hair salon called New You. Basically, I chose a random hair place on the map, without intending on going there. The place I wanted probably wouldn’t show up on Google. In my mind I felt like the true gems are hiding and they needed to be discovered. The plan was to very intently watch my surroundings for the actual place I wanted. 

My heart was racing as fast as the turn signal as I took a left then a right. We suddenly were getting very close to the decoy so my senses were highlighted. Overgrown strands of hair swayed in front of my eyes as I tried to focus.

On the map we were just two minutes away. Scanning. Scanning. Nothing to see except houses, a coffee shop, a karate studio, and an abandoned business space. 

I arrived to a stop sign and took a long look at the abandoned corner unit. Oh my goodness.

It was a hair salon. Or, at least the sign above the entrance had the word “hair” in it so I assumed it was a salon. The stucco exterior had stains and was in need of a paint job. The windows hadn’t been washed in a while. The sign’s red lettering was totally faded from the sun. 

Taking a deeper look, the doors were wide open. Not only that, I saw people inside. It wasn’t abandoned. 

My heart raced as I quickly scanned the street for an empty parking space. This is it! A feeling inside was jumping at me to stop here. We parked, I got out, took a few strong inhales and exhales, then paced into the unknown. 

My exceedingly long locks of hair blew in all directions as a mellow breeze whistled by. Since the door was wide open I took a fateful step inside. For a second my body tensed, as if there was danger inside.

Quickly the feeling evaporated as an elderly woman with scissors and a hair clipper smiled at me. At least I hoped she was smiling. We were all wearing facial coverings. 

As I blinked and finally took another breath, she greeted me.

“Are you here for a haircut?”

Did she just read my thoughts?

“Uh, yes. Why yes I am.” I blinked again. “Please. M’am.”

She looked at me the same way I contemplated her salon. There was a two or three second moment where no one said anything. We just looked at each other. 

“Ok, please take a seat. I’m almost done with him.” She moved out of the way and I saw a man waiting patiently for his haircut to continue. 

So I took a seat and for a few minutes watched life continue all around me. Kids rode by on their bikes and elderly couples walked hand in hand. 

My head was in the clouds when out of nowhere a voice brought me back to earth.

“Ok, it’s your turn.” 

We locked eyes again. This time she was smiling because she’d taken her mask off to have a drink of water. Taking a sip she pointed to the vacant chair next to the guy she’d just finished. 

I greeted her, said thank you, and said hello to the man who looked about my age. He seemed content and his hair looked good. 

As she placed an apron over my head and buttoned it up, the elderly woman paused. 

“Are you hungry?” 

My hair was tickling my forehead. I blinked to process what she asked. 

“No, thank you very much. But I’m ok. To be honest I’m not hungry”

She pulled out a plastic bag.  

“I brought this from home. There is plenty to share. Have a piece!” She cut three pieces of what looked like a cake for everyone in the salon. One for the other guy, one for her, and one for me. 

Using a napkin I reached out from under the apron to gratefully accept the unexpected gift. I was liking this place more and more. 

Within instants the man was eating the unknown snack. The lady took a small bite but her attention was focused on me. 

“Have some. We can do the haircut when we finish eating.” 

It wasn’t hard to say yes so I before bringing the piece towards my mouth I studied what was in front of me. 

Perhaps it was a carrot cake or maybe even banana bread. It looked tasty. But there was some odd texture on the outside of it. It was a little fuzzy, as if there was some lint on it. 

Take a deeper look, the fuzzy texture was actually a bunch of fuzzy white dots.

It was mold. 

It was a moldy cake. 

No way in heck is what I said in my head. Looking at the lady I didn’t want to offend her. 

“You know, it be honest, I’m really not hungry. I’d like to save it for later.”

“No no. It’s ok. Eat first and then we will do the haircut.”

My heart raced. The guy next to me finished his piece. He either had a clean piece, had no idea, or knew and was sick in the head. 

The ladies’ eyes squinted at me as if she were smiling. Did she know? 

I was literally on the hot seat because my whole body was burning. Closing my eyes I remembered the quest. My purpose for being here went further than just me and this lady. It was for my hair

There was no turning back. 

I muted the internal alarms and put the whole piece in my mouth. With ferocious, angry bites I pulverized the cake and swallowed the evidence. I wanted to cry. 

A chaotic noize erupted. It wasn’t from my stomach. It was from the clipper as she started to inspect my hair. She asked what I wanted and soon the haircut began. We chatted, the almost tears dried, and time went by. 

If it was a test, I suppose I passed. 

Minutes later, she gave me a mirror to inspect the back of my scalp. The haircut was done and it was a masterpiece. She was an artist. 

Taking out my wallet, she said she only took cash. I was loving this place. I took out the amount I hoped it would cost, and she quoted me less. This plus tip was half of what I paid in my hometown. 

Walking back to the car my whole body was buzzing. I was pretty sure it was from excitement and not moldy cake. Either way, I was sure of one thing:

I had found my diamond in the rough. 

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