Monday, July 27, 2009

Barbershop Economics

I usually hate shopping. It's a hassle, I'm constantly worried that I'm being taken (if its a high enough price to worry about that), I don't want to spend the time to do real comparison shipping to get enough market knowledge to know better. I would just rather do without.

When I do jump in to buy something, its usually only after enough other people have made the same purchase to establish a well known price. I bought the iPod this way.

But for services, its tricky. What electrician should I use? What plumber? What handyman? What mechanic? What doctor? Or what barber?

When I find someone I love, I stick with them grateful that I have one less thing to worry about. And you know what, I love my barber. I know, I know how hard can it be to get a hair cut. And for someone who cares as little as I do about it, going to the local supercuts worked just fine for me for so long. But then again, I wonder if that affected my dating life back in the day, hmmm....

Well, there's this cozy little nook in downtown Tempe Mill Avenue district. Its just north of 5th street on the west side of Mill Avenue. We used to live within walking distance of downtown Mill, by the way, and it was so nice to step outside our apartment and literally walk 5 minutes to the movie theater (which sadly is closed) or to a restaraunt or to Tempe Town Lake. And there was this cool little park and rec center right across the street from that complex, maybe we should sell our house and move back there. It was such a small apartment, though...

At any rate, this little nook of a shopping center has this one chair barbershop in a room just big enough to accommodate that one chair. So, I had to get my haircut there, simply because the atmosphere was so darn pleasant. . And surprise, the barber is actually really good at cutting hair.

The place is called Carlyn's Barbership and the barber is also the owner. I've been getting my hair cut their basically since I've been married, eight years now, and she knows exactly what I want. I literally sit on the chair and she begins to cut. No need to ask me the length of the clippers, she uses scissors on my hair. And we've become friends. When I didn't show up a couple of weeks ago (I was camping) she was wondering why (and I needed to be in there, badly). Over the years, we've talked politics (although I've tread lightly on this subject with her), vacations, weather, how her business is doing.

I got the inside scoop on why businesses left Mill Avenue. Border's left because mid-way through their lease on Mill, some upper level manager was wonder why it did so poorly compared to other locations. The manager took a tour of the area and said whoever decided to put it there should be fired. As soon as the lease ran out, Border's yanked it. Which is sad really, it was the only bookstore in the downtown, and if you want Mill Avenue to be a place for pedestrians, you've gotta have a bookstore and a coffee shop (by the way Coffee Plantation left too - I've got to talk to Carlyn during my next visit why it happened).

Those Were the Days, you know that cute used book store, left because the owner was old and decided it was just time, and they couldn't get any of their kids to take over. That was the only reason. Again, sad because that was such a cool store, although I never shopped there... I guess I really need to start buying stuff at stores I want to stick around...

Also, she's really interesting, because she has this barberhop lineage. Her dad is a barber. I think she has at least one if not two brothers that cut hair for a living. Its her business and she's been doing it for years. She has accumulated loyal customers too, loyal enough for folks to drive from across town to use her.

And the location is just so perfect for me. In that same little courtyard there's this really great deli, In Season's Deli, and when I took my son with me for our hair cuts, we stopped in for lunch afterward. Really makes for just a really pleasant day.

And did I say she can cut hair. We've had our son's hair cut twice fairly recently by those chain barbershops, both times because he really needed a haircut and it was just a bit more convenient to just get it done by a chain (they are open later and for more days in the week, Carlyn has the old-school barbershop hours, Tuesdays through Saturdays).

But they totally hacked up his hair twice. You might say no big deal, he's only four, what does he care. But I care. He's literally only going to be 4 once. We're going to have pictures of him with hacked up hair for eternity. And we literally only saved a few bucks for hacked that hacked-up hair cut. The first time, we had to take him immediately into Carlyn to get it fixed because it was so bad.

The second time we did it (Sara was off to Utah for two weeks with him before we had a chance to cut it. I was hoping she would find a high quality replacement in Utah, but she got sucked into the convenience of the chain), it was more tolerable, but still..

The difference is the chains employ folks who can't cut hair, and I'm sure they pay them very little as the cost of the haircut gets consumed by the management chain all the way up. And for the brand and the marketing of that brand. For Carlyn, this is what she does and largely who she is.

And in the bigger picture, I just get the feeling that our economy would be better off if we cared more about quality over quantity. If we were more careful to shop locally, to choose merchants who have a passion for what they did and a true talent, instead of being ok with average, cheap and convenient for everything.

Obviously, its not practical to shop locally for everything. I don't want to buy some Tempe branded computer. Its nice to have a nice big manufacture spend lots of money to innovate Macintosh hardware and its operating system. But for local services... Let's hire folks who are skilled in their craft. We would all benefit if we did.
And I feel a lot better to know my money is going almost exclusively (minus the overhead) into the pocket of the one doing the service I'm purchasing. Do I really care about some anonymous high level manager in some far away city trying to figure out how to maximize profits for all of their Supercuts stores. No way. That kind of expertise does very little to ensure I have a nice haircut. Why would I want to fund that.

So, if you're looking for a good barber, and you live in Tempe, I strongly recommend Carlyn, but if you don't go to her shop, at least find someone who actually knows how to cut hair.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why Aren't more Mormons Democrats?

I know the reason, of course, its largely abortion and gay and lesbian marriage. And of course, there's something appealing in the Republican ideology of individual responsibility and economic liberty. But, there's some messiness in this thought as well, and darn it, the Mormon church has, in my humble view, been thrown under the bus by the Republican party lately.

Lately, the party has been marginalized largely by its own self-inflicted mistakes, its own corruptions, and misdeeds, and an overly-simplistic ideology that has been shown in the real-world to be horribly flawed. But this marginalized party has also thrown the church under the bus, because large segments of the party's power base has a hateful and hurtful view of the Mormon church - yes I'm talking to the southern evangelical belt of the Republican party. The same part of the party that could not stomach nominating Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate, the person that really should have been the nominee, someone about 100,000 times more qualified to be president than John McCain and certainly Sarah Palin. (Now my views on Romney are based on his record not his rhetoric. He said some insane things in his attempts to win the nomination, but as governor of Massachussetts, he seemed to be a thoughtful, pragmatic moderate. And I think he would have returned to that if he had won the presidency . Of course he had no shot at Obama, but considering the train wreck McCain's candidacy became, I found myself longing for Romney.)

But now that Obama has nominated a supreme court justice, and there's a ton of talk about the Constitution and its interpretation. And with all of this debate about Obama and the economy I've been having, I've been thinking about this a bit more. It seems to me that politically speaking, Mormons tend to think more like Baptists than Mormons.

Let me explain, but first let me point out that I have nothing against evangelicals as a whole, actually I respect their institutions. I do think that a certain number of those who have used the religious platform to push a political agenda have done so in very non-Christian ways.

Ok, I have many conversations in my life (serving my mission as I did in Alabama), with folks who believe themselves Bible literalists. Their faith and their religion is based on a literal acceptance of the Bible as the word of God, perfect and unchanging, and that it is not subject to individual interpretation. Of course, this leads to the very real problem that many Christians have very basic conflicts in how they interpret the Bible, and some faiths, of course, claim theirs is the right interpretation, and others are simply misguided. But mostly, many people get by this problem by boiling down their core beliefs to the most basic Biblical message - faith in Jesus as the Savior and Son of God, through whom salvation comes. That churches on the earth are man-made and flawed, but individual faith is what matters most.

That is a nice belief to be sure, but what I found interesting is that the prophets and apostles of the past are given much more authority over doctrine than pastors and ministers of today. The Bible was written 2000 years ago, and scripture writing has since stopped. Prophets no longer exist. We have clergy today, who although called of God, are left to try to make literal interpretations of this scripture in its application to our day.

Ok, get ready for the stretch...

Republicans today have a very similar point of view. Reverence for our country's founding fathers, I find very similar to the reverence shown toward the original twelve apostles. The Constitution is revered as near scripture, an inspired document. And, in their view, today's political leaders should focus primarily on capturing the original intent of the Constitution and certainly should not add to or take away from this sacred document.

Do you see the parallel? The Constitution, politically speaking, has become biblical in a very evangelical Christian sort of way. Similarly, we have a ton more faith in the country's founders than we do in the politicians today.

But Mormons really should not follow suite. The great revolutionary message of Joseph Smith is that revelation has not ended. That God can call prophets and apostles today, equal in both stature and authority as those called in Biblical times. And, most controversially, these prophets have the authority to write new scripture. Not something that preempts what was written 2000 years ago, but to complement it and have the ability to write and speak to the issues of our day.

The documents of the past are still studied and adhered to, but we as a faith have learned to look to modern day authority figures for direction in a confusing world.

The tenants of the Democrat party fall in-line. Democrats believe that government can be a force for good. That when democracy works, when government is accountable and the voting public is educated, we can elect good men and women into office who can and do work toward our good. Not that they are perfect, not that our government wreaks with corruption. But also note, that our early government was also flawed. We had institutionalized slavery, and we massacred our Native Americans. We had scandal from the beginning. Nothing has changed here. Our founding fathers are revered for very good reasons, we had some incredible men who sacrificed and worked to create something quite literally amazing. But at the end of they day, they were men, with flaws and shortcomings. And we have some pretty remarkable and equally inspiring people living today. Who says that we cannot rise to today's challenges like they rose to theirs.

To say that government has no role, or a very limited one in facing the challenges of today, is simply wrong.

The problem with the political discourse today is that its filled with strawmen. Republicans have historically characterized the Democratic party as socialists in love with the idea that government can solve every last problem. But that is a mischaracterization (although some in the party may believe that). And that certainly doesn't describe our current president.

Becoming a Democrat, I was surprised to learn that many Democrats are truly capitalist and love freedom. Imagine that! They just believe that the government has a role to play both to keep the free market free and to step in when the market systems fall short, and they do fall short more often than Republicans like to admit.

I do realize the reason Mormons tend to flock toward the Republican party is deeper than the issue of Constitutional literalism, and I bet that abortion and gay and lesbian marriage has a lot to do with it. The hopes of this argument is to give some just a little nudge, another reason to reconsider.

Finally, I may be dreaming, but it seems like Obama is trying to make political room for Mormons to join the fold. He chose Huntsman, the Mormon governor of Utah, as his diplomat to China. Huntsman was considered to be one of the Republicans that may have been (and may still be) in the hunt for a future presidential nomination. He's also more pragmatic and moderate than the evangelicals probably want (and of course he's Mormon)... But it was good to see Obama choose him to an important position.

Also, I think that Obama's decision to de-emphasize cultural war issues like abortion and gay and lesbian marriage has a lot to do with allowing room for those of faith, to widen the tent and make space.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Birthday

Its coming up, not right away, but in just over a month... And I'm one who tries to be a little innovative when it comes to celebrating it... Here are some highlights:

1) It all started when the birthday after I graduated from college, I told nobody about it and didn't really celebrate it, and when I told my sister I told nobody, she rebuked me using some sort of phrase like: "This is the celebration of your life, darn it." So I vowed from then on I was going to celebrate my birthday.

2) The next year (I think), I decided to do have a birthday week. I did a different thing every day... A hike up camelback, a visit to a poetry slam (these are quite incredible things, highly entertaining, but something I haven't done or even heard about in a while - have they died?), visited a museum, I can't remember the rest...

3) Hosted a poetry/music/talent sharing party, where folks shared their stuff - kinda a smaller scale, more intimate talent show/show and tell experience for adults.

4) Took a trip to San Francisco with friends - quite fun and memorable.

5) Shortly before G. W. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign, we hosted a political party where we played political games and I offered plenty of political propaganda for folks to take part in...

6) Last year we went campaigning and had cake and ice cream... Perfect.

But now, Seth Godin goes ahead and one ups me with this post...

Now I'm going to have to get real serious... I don't want to get all hallmarky and I definitely don't want my birthday to be "both selfish and small-minded." (although the idea behind birthdays is to be a little selfish, right?). No, I want to "think bigger."

I love his idea that in honor of his birthday people would start "a project, launch an idea or engage in a difficult interaction that made something good happen. Make a difference day."

That's cool, but that's so Seth Godin... Let me think what could work for me... Any suggestions?