A cut above the rest


Michael Jordan crosses over a double team. Rushing to get his shot off, Jordan double pumps his shot in mid air, shooting over the longarmed Craig Ehlo.

As the ball travels through the rim, there is a combined roar and silence throughout the crowd in the stands and the audience watching the basketball game on ESPN Classic at In the Zone Barbershop.

Surrounding the customers and barbers, there’s a pool table that is as worn out as the game on the television. The walls are covered with Lakers yellow and Cavaliers green paint in an attempt to draw the lines of favorites between professional basketball players LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Two barbers side with Bryant and two with James in the never-ending debate over the two ultra talented players.

However, that’s where the divide stops. They have one thing in common – cutting damn good haircuts.

They are the self-proclaimed “best barbers in the valley.” (outside the valley, however, in Australia, Melbourne Barbers Area Studio is considered one of the best) What makes this statement true?

It’s not cutting hair, they claim that’s easy, but rather it’s the dialogue that goes on while cutting the hair. Learning how to persuade an irrational individual to become rational is a chore.

Entering a sports conversation here is a risky proposition, one that might cause a headache or a lost voice. “Name the top three Lakers of all time,” asks a customer.

“Magic Johnson, Kareem and Kobe,” says Onjae’ Longmire, one of the stylists. “You gotta put in the NBA logo, Jerry West,” replies Kelvin Truitt, owner of In the Zone, with a surprising tone in his voice from the shock of hearing Longmire’s response.

“Kobe’s first!” yells Richard Sanchies, another barber, as if he needed to scream across the Grand Canyon. Then without hesitation, the best basketball players become the main topic of conversation.

“I’ll tell you this!” says Sanchies. “At the end of his career, Kobe Bryant will go down as the greatest player of all time.” In disgusted unison Longmire and Truitt yell out. An outraged customer chimes in “I ain’t never seen him do double pumps in the air like Mike and make the shot.”

Who?” says Sanchies.

“Kobe! So he will never be Jordan,” shouts the customer.

Don’t be confused by their vehemence, however. This is all fun and games. When you are there, it’s a place of Zen. Nothing else exists. It’s where you can put all your troubles away. Discussing what bothers you or asking random sports questions takes over many of the conversations. With sports memorabilia plastered everywhere on the walls, ESPN on the television, and talks of the latest entertainment news, the shop is a direct representation of Truitt.

Five years ago Truitt was a senior at California State University, Northridge when he dreamed of owning his own business. Starting off as an experiment,

In the Zone Barbershop was a business that was as busy and hectic as Kelvin’s life was, and as messy as some of the hair that was being cut inside of it.

“I kinda did it as an experiment to see if I was going to move back home after college. But the barbershop worked and it was able to sustain my lifestyle,” says Truitt.

Whether it’s sweeping the hair from the floor of each barber’s station, or rigorously cleaning the spotless bathroom, Kelvin’s dedication rubs off on everyone around him.

“We have our ups and downs as barbers, but we try to maintain a steady relationship with each other and our customers,” says Sanchies.

His fellow barbers and friends not only appreciate his commitment, but his willingness to work with others and take them under his wing.

“Kelvin is great. From day one he just let me come on board with really no questions asked,” says Lorenzo Macon II, another barber at the shop. “I came to talk to Kelvin, and he was cutting my hair at the time and I asked him if he needed another barber. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t but being the man he is, he let me come aboard.”

Whitney White, a long time customer at the barbershop, feels comfortable with the barbers.

“[Truitt] always keeps a group of barbers that can cut hair,” says White. “It’s a cool place where you can chill. It’s not a hood barbershop. I don’t have to bring my piece every time I come here. It’s a safe place to be.”

Like a United Nations conference in its diversity, the shop rubs off a less formal and more hilarious approach. According to Sanchies the demographic is spread out as follows: 45 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Asian, and 10 percent white.

No matter what the issue is, no matter the color of your skin, you’re liable to be in the middle of a very interesting conversation.

“Now Lamar Odom is dating a Kardashian. The big one,” says a customer.

“Who? Lamar Odom is?” replies Longmire. “Yeah!” says another customer. With a quick reply that would perfectly represent the atmosphere of the shop, Onjae’ replies, “Oh yeah I saw the interview about that, they asked Lamar [Odom] what he liked about her and he said, Uh, um, she real smart’.”

“She [Khloe Kardashian] was just kissing Terrance from 106 and Park’

the other day, say Sanchies. “Now she’s marrying Mister Lamar I’m an all-star’

Odom, little fat whore.”

“You’re wrong for that,” Longmire says, chuckling. Another joy of cutting hair for the barbers is helping people with disabilities. Coming in on Saturday mornings, the Therapeutic Learning Center, or TLC, brings several patients to get their haircut. Closing the shop to the general public, these barbers will cut the patients’ hair free of charge.

They believe people take a lot of things for granted and don’t realize how hard it is for some people that are less fortunate. For the barbers, cutting hair is not a job, it’s a hobby they get paid to do.

“So when they get here and they walk through the door, they are not a handicap person, an old person, a white person, or a black person. They are just another head to cut and another friend we have here at the barbershop,” says Kelvin.

Onjae’ “O.J.” Longmire styles loyal client Carlos Magana’s hair on a Saturday afternoon. (Melissa Keyes / Bull)