Inside Drake’s Barber Shop at 7056 Lawndale Street, the air hums with the buzz of electric razors. Though the day’s pulse slows and the sun descends, the shop shows little sign of closing. The owner, Paul, happily greets incoming patrons as he snips away at a boy’s coarse hair, while making light conversation with those waiting. The chat cycles through various subjects: the Rio Grande Valley (where Paul is from), the Astros, Einstein. A teenage boy chimes in, lamenting the cold weather. Paul responds with an anecdote about the origins of his shop. “When I opened in '71, I had no heat. It snowed three times that week. Man, it was cold! I bought some little electric heaters and cut hair in a sport coat.”
The remark resonates with those of us listening and comments fly about this year’s unusual winter. Most of the conversations close and commence with personal chronicles like this one.
The chitchat subsides as Paul dusts the boy off with a yellow coiled air compressor. Now free, the boy hops off the leather chair and Paul hands him a lollipop, then beckons an older gentleman. They shake hands and greet each other before the man takes a seat. Eyes closed, he speaks in slow Spanish as Paul traces his shallow scalp with clippers; this might be the first time the man’s been able to relax all day. At one point, he begins to doze off.
It’s easy to lose yourself in Drake’s Barber Shop. If you study its walls long enough, you find they tell a story—many, in fact. Large prints hang in which Mexican revolutionaries gaze out from sepia backdrops, while Marilyn Monroe and Selena smirk in candid stills. And all throughout, photos of customers and family, intermingling with these legends of the past. The collection is impressive—the histories, important.
Paul, my uncle by blood, learned to cut hair in the Navy, where he served from 1958 to 1964. After finishing out his term, he moved to Houston and began cutting hair at the original Drake’s Barber Shop, located at 2060 Main Street. He eventually took over and moved locations, settling down in southeast Houston’s Lawndale neighborhood. In a sprawling city like ours where new businesses spring up weekly, establishing close relationships with customers becomes a challenge. Luckily, he has managed to cultivate a loyal following. It makes me happy to see the community steward my uncle’s become.
Before I leave, we hug and he slips a pen in my hand with a smiling cow on it and a speech bubble, the phrase “Moo-chas Gracias” floating inside. I thank him and we hug once more. Mexican and American flags lazily flutter above the shop’s entrance. When I step into the parking lot, the air is a mix of laundry detergent and ramen. I don’t mind the combination. I take pleasure in it because it is a communal smell—the smell of this neighborhood and this city.
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