It was the winter of 1998, and I was but a wee lad living in Pasadena, and humbly eking out an existence from the rough terrain of medical education, when one of my classmates mentioned to me that she had just had her haircut and she had paid only two dollars. Two dollars? Two dollars? Who ever heard of such a thing. Well, the Alhambra Beauty College lets students cut your hair, as part of the learning process, and for this service you pay only a pittance. As a student whose education relies upon the patience of others, and more particularly their willingness to submit themselves to my inexperienced practice, I immediately liked the idea. Not only am I getting a haircut, I am providing a service, giving back if you will, doing my part to train the hairstylists of tomorrow.
So I went, and it wasn’t the best haircut I had ever received, but it also wasn’t the worst. I grew having my mom cut my hair, and generally maintaining a shaggy mop that covered my eyes at least as much as I could get away with. Even after I graduated from mom-salon, it was always the $9 mall haircut for me, or the barber in college. On and off, over the years since then, I have returned to the Alhambra Beauty College, never with high expectations, but also not with an impending sense of dread. In the last few months I have visited twice, and that is enough for me.
First of all, the price has gone up to four dollars (2 more if you want your hair washed). I know, I know, 6 dollars is still an unparalleled bargain. Or is it? The Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica also offers student haircuts, and if you have a student ID the cost is only $10. For your $10, you actually get a very good haircut. The instructors manage (some might say micro-manage) the students, and though the experience can drag on for up to three hours, it is a pleasant experience all around, and you walk away looking good. The same cannot be said for the Alhambra Beauty School.
For the $4 you get to hold on to, you give up any sense of well being you feel during the process, and any chance of being able to communicate with your hair-cutter in English. I’m not talking about holding a conversation here. I’m not one of the people who likes to chat while their getting a haircut, quite the opposite. But, I do expect to able to say words like “longer” and “shorter” without having to charade their meanings. It seems to me that if someone were to start cutting hair, those might be the first English words they learn. Apparently this is not always the case.
What I will say, in defense of the Alhambra Beauty school, is that they give a wonderful hair washing. The process usually lasts 15 to 20 minutes and includes a thorough scalp massage. Well worth the $2 fee. The haircut, and the whole haircutting experience may be a mark overpriced at $4. It’s a schlep to get out to Santa Monica to Vidal Sassoon, and using their services may mean I go longer between haircuts, but mark my words: I WILL NEVER GO TO THE ALHAMBRA BEAUTY COLLEGE AGAIN.