For barber Apoleon Moore, "it was either (cut hair) or sell dope or steal cars."
By AMBER MOBLEY
Published November 17, 2006
The perpetual buzzzzzzz of hair clippers begins before birds start chirping, before the sun rises, on Saturday mornings.
Hand-clapping, soul-stirring gospel music ascends from the barbershop radio, blending with conversation on everything from funerals to Black Entertainment Television, education and elections.
It's 7 a.m.
Apoleon Moore is at work at Simply Raw Hair Salon, 1323 W Busch Blvd., and he's been cutting hair for two hours.
That is how he handles business: early and thoroughly.
Men, boys and babies wait their turn to get faded, trimmed and shaved by Moore.
They all call him "Polie."
Like the tightly coiled hairs on his customers' heads, Moore's bay area roots run deep.
And his clientele is colossal because of it.
- - -
It all began on the back porch of a West Tampa house in summer 1980.
Polie, then 12, and childhood friends spent time drawing, creating rap lyrics and cooking.
But then the routine changed.
A friend's dad owned a pair of clippers and wanted to use them on Polie's hair.
"I told him, 'If you cut mine I'm going to cut yours,' " Moore said. "And that's how it started."
"I didn't know how to fade, I just knew how to draw."
But cutting shapes, words and designs in black boys' hair was fresh back then.
"And that's how a lot of people got to know me," said Moore. "I was the traveling barber. ... It kept me busy."
And it kept him out of trouble.
"I made a lot of friends and I didn't have to worry about all of the temptations that other people had to deal with," he said.
"I didn't know that was my saving grace. It was either (cut hair) or sell dope or steal cars."
Moore's mama always told him that God blessed him with a talent, but he never saw himself doing it as a livelihood.
Now, he says, "I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Moore, now 39 and a licensed barber, has come a long way from cutting hair on his mama's back porch.
Simply Raw is his digs now.
But Moore, of Lutz, is still close to the community.
Most of his customers grew up with him, and now he cuts many of their children's hair, too.
"I've got quite a few that have graduated and moved on and I've been cutting their hair since they were babies," Moore said. "That's the most rewarding because you see them developing into men. Just to see them make it in life feels good."
One of those faithful customers is Evalio Harrell, 45, of Belmont Heights. Harrell and his six sons have been coming to Moore since 1991.
"This is the one you used to have to beat," Moore said, pointing at Harrell. "They'd come in like little clowns in a circus."
"People would say, 'Man, I got here at 2 in the morning and he still beat me,' " Moore said, laughing.
Harrell had only one of his sons, Quentavis, 15, at the barbershop on a recent Saturday.
And Quentavis became an accidental audience for life lessons as Moore cut head after head after head.
Get good grades.
Don't think sports super-stardom is guaranteed.
Stay out of jail.
To Moore, every meeting with every person is "an opportunity to put out a good word of encouragement."
And those opportunities are not limited to his Busch Boulevard barber chair:
Moore barbers at the Leslie Peters Halfway House and the east and west Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Centers; this is Moore's fourth year coaching youth football for the West Tampa Yellowjackets; and he also helps coach his church's basketball league at the New Millennium Community Church.
It's Moore's way of giving back to the community that helped steer him in the right direction as a youngster.
"Our community is suffering from a lack of leadership," Moore said. "Our boys are out on the corners, dropping out of school. It's bad out there, and everybody should see the urgency of it."
"I'm just trying to do my part."
And a lot of times, that means giving advice over the phone.
"He's always on the phone counseling," Harrell teased. "But you can't counsel everybody. Some folks need psychological help and here you are telling them it's going to be all right.
"But that's Polie, though."
Earlier opening times
Moore said he's always been a morning person, but over the years, customers' schedules have meant many earlier mornings.
"I used to come in at 8 or 9, but then somebody asked me to come in at 7. Then somebody asked me to come in at 6. I've been here as early as 3:30 (in the morning)," Moore said. "It's a demanding business. You have to please the client."
And that means all clients, from baby boomers to babies like 2-year-old Kendyll McMillian.
Kendyll came into the barbershop sleepy-eyed on a recent Saturday morning, but dad Cedric, of Seffner, doubted he would stay that way.
"About 10 minutes, that's all he's going to get," said McMillian, Moore's longtime friend and customer.
McMillian's prediction turned out to be an overestimate.
Once Kendyll got in Moore's chair, he wouldn't sit still.
So McMillian sat Kendyll in his lap.
That didn't work.
After a buzz or two, the little one started ducking and dodging the clippers.
Then, Kendyll's mama, Lacrecia, gave it a try.
Moore circled Lacrecia as she held Kendyll, cutting the toddler's hair where he could.
"Look at that," Lacrecia told Kendyll, pointing at the silver cross dangling from the thin chain around Moore's neck.
With the haircut nearly done, Moore went into the back room of the shop and emerged with honey buns.
Kendyll, with one in each hand, finally sat still while Moore finished his hair.
Cedric and Lacrecia McMillian shook their heads, half smiling.
Moore - "Polie" - laughed and welcomed the next customer to take a seat.
Amber Mobley can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 269-5311.
If you go
Apoleon "Polie" Moore is a barber at Simply Raw Hair Salon, 1323 W Busch Blvd.
Moore takes appointments Tuesdays through Fridays from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. and walk-ins on Saturdays starting at 5 a.m.
The phone number for Simply Raw is 813 933-2222.
[Last modified November 16, 2006, 08:31:00]
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