Day 7: Kentucky | Traveling Violations
MT. AIRY, N.C. – For the last 58 years, Russell Hiatt has been cutting hair and talking Atlantic Coast Conference basketball at perhaps the most famous barber shop in America.
It was more than 45 years ago – the Frank McGuire Underground Railroad years at North Carolina – that a young kid from this small town named Andy Griffith used to come in for haircuts.
Griffith later moved to Hollywood and created a self-named, long-running television show based on his hometown (fictionalized as "Mayberry"). It even featured a talkative barber named "Floyd."
And so straight out of an "Andy Griffith Show" episode Tuesday, there was Hiatt, 80 now but still going strong. As the Carolina afternoon gave way to dusk on Main Street, Hiatt talked hoops with his friend David Willard while waiting for customers inside Floyd's City Barber Shop (motto: "2 chairs, no waiting").
We sat wheelman Bret Bearup down for a trim and joined in the fun.
"They've got one kid down there at Chapel Hill who could be as good as anyone in the country," Hiatt said of North Carolina's talented but tumultuous guard, Rashad McCants. "If he'd only get his head on.
"But I'll tell ya, they could be a Final Four team."
"There's a whole bunch of Final Four teams this year," said Willard, who works for the state. The preseason national poll had six league teams ranked in the top 20.
"I think they got Duke down there," said Willard (they're fifth in the ACC poll). "Duke is going to fool everybody. They are going to come in."
In North Carolina, ACC basketball is a 52-week-a-year obsession. The same conversation can be overheard at little storefront barbershops from Asheville to Albemarle and big-city joints in Charlotte and Raleigh.
There may be places elsewhere in the country with more passion for a single school, but nowhere else is an entire league obsessed over like here in North Carolina.
Both Hiatt and Willard are UNC fans first. But like most people down here, they have a second favorite also, in this case Wake Forest which is just 40 miles down the road in Winston-Salem.
"I was for Carolina before they even moved Wake Forest down there," Hiatt said. The university was located in Wake Forest, N.C., in the eastern part of the state until 1956. "But if they are not playing North Carolina, I'm pulling for Wake."
These guys know the players and personalities on all the teams, even the out-of-state ones.
"Everybody's got Wake Forest picked because of Chris Paul," Hiatt said. "But Georgia Tech is going to be real good."
Like many businesses in town, Hiatt gets a lot of customers because of the television show. He's had a ton of athletes in through the years. He regularly cuts the hair of three major league baseball umpires. The only college coach to visit, however, was former West Virginia head man Gale Catlett.
Dean Smith never made it in. Of course, Andy Griffith hasn't been by in 45 years either.
Hiatt does however have a personalized, autographed basketball from University of Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who attended nearby High Point and coached high school in the area.
Hiatt turns a profit off of Floyd's shirts and coffee mugs, but his main business still is trimming hair. He says he has enough money to retire but has too much fun hanging out, meeting people and talking hoops.
No ACC basketball fan could disagree.
- We rolled out of Lexington on Tuesday determined to make good time to Tobacco Road. That meant not stopping at the Cantuckee Diner in Winchester, Ky. no matter how much we wanted to.
- We couldn't resist getting off the road in West Virginia and finding some serious pinto beans and cornbread – country cookin' at its best – at the Twin Hills Restaurant in Shrewsbury, W.V. It was so good it was unfair.
- Actually, Shrewsbury is "unincorporated" according to the sign. Bearup, however, recommended the city fathers try an LLC.
- The Twin Hills offers a special deal: "10 hot dogs to go for $8.50." How often do you need 10 hot dogs to go?
- Our apologies to the listeners of Atlanta's 790 The Score on Tuesday afternoon. Our segment was cut off by poor cell phone coverage just as we crossed the line form Kentucky to West Virginia.
The television satellite dish may be the state flower of West Virginia, but the cell phone tower still is scarce.
- Not that we have anything against West Virginia. "I consider it one of our 50 greatest states," Bearup said.
- David Willard at Floyd's City Barber Shop wasn't as kind: "Do you know the only good thing that comes out of West Virginia? Interstate 77."
- Personally, I disagree. The state is beautiful to drive through. Between the mountains, the rivers and the hardscrabble towns, there is plenty to appreciate. Or maybe you'd rather drive through Northern Ohio?
Valued Reader Email
Your correspondence, with my response in italics.
Dan – I am a student at Indiana University in Bloomington but my family lives in Floyd's Knobs, Indiana. I thought it was important for me to mention that you spelled our city's name wrong; it is Floyd's Knobs, with an "s" at the end.
By the way, you missed out on one of the best views of the Ohio River Valley by not driving through.
Floyds Knobs, Ind.
Floyd has more than one knob? Interesting. I don't doubt the views are great though.
Dan – I did a little research on Felix the Cat being Logansport High School's mascot … I'm not sure anyone knows for sure how it happened. There are at least three different versions.
What I do know for sure is that Felix is the oldest recognized mascot in the state of Indiana. Hall of Fame Coach Cifford Wells was involved, as was basketball player Curly Hupp.
- A host of basketball people checked into the Tour on Tuesday, most looking for gossip. This included Mark Warkentien from the front office of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Kiki Vandeweghe, general manager of the Denver Nuggets.
Then there was Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins, who was angry with us for skipping the Bearcats on the tour this year. Especially because, he reports, his team looks so good.
- At Tubby Smith's press conference it was good to catch up with UK media relations staff members Scott Stricklin and Mandy Polley, who handle the largest day-in, day-out media congregation in the country.
Although, some of those media types, including Drew Diener of WHAS, Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Matt May of the Cats Pause, Victoria Sun of the Cincinnati Post and Michael Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal can't be too difficult to deal with.
- Dinner Tuesday night in Lexington featured Patrick Madden, the big-time local real estate developer, and Chet Lott, the son of Mississippi senator Trent Lott. Madden and Bearup attended law school together at UK – "the Harvard of Central Kentucky" Bearup notes.
Madden recently built Hamburg Place, a shopping center on the outskirts of Lexington that has become a local commerce capital. We ate at the very good Montana Grill there.
- An update on the $5 million purchase of Smarty Jones' mother by Gaines-Gentry Thoroughbreds and our friend Thomas Gaines. He reports that I'll Get Along is already pregnant from Smarty's dad, Allusive Quality, which means that whatever arrives will be a full brother to Smarty.
Trust me, no buyer's remorse here. Five million or not.
- Total mileage thus far: 1,623.1 miles
- Next campaign stop: Winston-Salem, N.C.