Woodford County

Inaugural scenes: In Versailles, quiet prevails among attentive viewers

VERSAILLES — On the corner of Court Street and South Main in Versailles, you'll find two standing relics of a simpler time: Steve's Barber Shop, complete with the spinning candy-cane sign, and Cornerstone Pharmacy, where customers can pick up prescriptions or drop in for bite to eat.

Everybody knows everybody, and the conversation stays almost exclusively local — local people, local economics, local events — even though, at this moment, history is being made in Washington, D.C.

While seven or eight customers wait in worn chairs reupholstered in various textures of green plastic, three men in the barber's seats at Steve's chat idly with their barbers. One talks about boating and fishing. Another discusses the illness of a church member. Kevin Neal, recently laid off from a managing position at a wholesale beverage distributor, chats with Steve Watts, owner of the shop, about the presidential inauguration, and Obama's election in general.

Neal's voice seems to exude optimism. He laughs jovially and smiles easily.

"For many, many years, I voted Republican just because that's what my family always did, without putting a lot of thought into it," Neal says, when discussing why he voted for Obama in November. "This year I really put a lot of thought into it."

"Do I think Obama's Superman? Naw, I don't. ... I believe there's only so much a man can do in four years to change a country. But he has done a masterful, masterful job of trying to bring people together. ... I think there's some real power in that," he says.

Watts, a polite, mustachioed man with a constant smile, listens intently and pitches in his 2 cents every now and again, when his clippers aren't buzzing away.

Perhaps their conversation steers toward national goings-on because of their chair's direct line of view of the 22-inch high-definition TV hanging above the door, broadcasting the inauguration.

As Neal finishes up in the barber's seat, he quickly pays and throws on his coat. After one last glance at the screen, he's on his way to a job interview, a good excuse to miss Obama's inaugural address.

"I'll be listening to it on the radio," he says. "And I think we're recording it on TV at home."

Idle conversation continues in the barber's seats, but the customers waiting along the wall remain silent, all eyes fixed on the TV.

A little after 11:30, trumpets blare from the screen as Obama and his entourage walk on stage. All conversation pauses, and the only sound from within the shop is the buzz of clippers and the suck of vacuum hoses clearing itchy hairs from patrons' necks.

Four-year-old Chase Willis, who has taken Neal's seat in the barber's chair, asks his mother, Melissa, "Momma, is that our president?" She nods, and all are silent again.

As speakers and musical guests take the stage in Washington, conversation in Versailles goes back to hunting trips, the local job market, the stock market and occasionally the haircuts at hand. This continues through Obama's address. Customers come and go, and little else is said about the historic events taking place on screen.

Next door at Cornerstone Pharmacy, the Inauguration Day dine-in lunch crowd seems slightly smaller than usual. At 12:30, only three customers eat at the tables.

"We had our regulars today, our Tuesday regulars," says Dixie Lowe, deli manager. "We had some customers come in today and take their lunch out because they wanted to get back to the office and watch the inauguration.

"One particular lady told me she had brought her TV into the office just so she could watch it."

Three professionally dressed women come in to order lunch to go. Conversation stays light; they tease Judy Adcock, another deli worker, about being tied to her job.

There's a general sense of optimism and happiness in the air. It might have something to do with the start of a new presidency. The reason never becomes abundantly clear.