By Rory Corcoran, Editor in Chief
I had just arrived in Hermosa Beach, California after a weeklong cross-country road trip from New York. Unaccustomed to the winter heat, I decided to go out and get my hair cut. I ventured aimlessly along the main street in hopes that a barber would not be far. I soon spotted the blue and red ribbons of a barber’s pole spinning in the distance, and I approached the tinted storefront window it hung upon. “Berl’s Hermosa Haircutting,” the sign read. In that instance, the door swung open, and I was thrust inside by a booming voice.
“You need a haircut?” the man asked as he dangled a smock in front of me like a matador. It was more of an order. I sat in the lone barber chair as he prepared his equipment. The shop was intimate and its décor resembled that of a hole-in-the-wall bar. The mirrors and walls were cluttered with old photographs and stickers from seemingly every rock and roll band you could name (and many you could not).
“So you’re Berl,” I said.
“That’s me!” he shouted.
Berl was in his late 60’s and looked like a slightly more conservative Dog the Bounty Hunter. He wore all black with alligator-skin boots that came to a sharp point. His face was tanned and cracked like a sun-baked leather mitt. As he cut my hair, he talked about his former career as a music technician. He had toured with rock legends such as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin throughout the 1970’s. These same legends would also frequent Southern California for it’s nightlife, and Berl was a witness to much of their decadent behavior.
“Oh yeah! Those guys used to come to party down in [Hermosa] all the time. And where would they stay? Well, ol’ Berl’s place of course!”
Though, he dawned black, Berl exuded an uncanny level of local color. He was as organic and natural to Hermosa as the sand that lined its beaches. He was also giving me a pretty decent haircut.
I perused the walls in search of more conversation fodder and asked Berl about a bumper sticker that hung amidst some black and white photos of long-forgotten local surf legends. In bold black lettering, the sticker read, “THERE’S NO LIFE EAST OF SEPULVEDA.” [Sepulveda Boulevard ran Parallel to the ocean and divided the town of Hermosa Beach into an east and west side.]
Berl perked up.
“There’s no life east of Sepulveda. It’s true! You see, in elementary school my buddies and I used to cut class and run down to the beach to surf. Our school was on the other side of Sepulveda Blvd., so when the teachers would come down to the beach to try to bring us back, we’d scream, ‘There’s no life east of Sepulveda!’ and run back into the ocean.” Berl’s battle cry soon became the motto of delinquents all across Hermosa Beach – a point that seemed to bring him sublime satisfaction. I parted ways with Berl, having received a great haircut and even better entertainment.
I hope that more residents of Hermosa Beach can hear one of Berl’s barbershop sermons. Those who listen will be granted a unique insight into the majestic history that will forever exist in the town’s rear-view-mirror. Tales of bygone times are best amplified through the voices of people who have shaped an area’s history. Through people who too often blend into the landscape. Through people like Berl.