Tuesday, August 12, 2008

71 Year-old Hairdresser by Day, Bounty Hunter by Night

After selling his Buckhead beauty school and most of his Atlanta hair salons, Refugio "Fugi" Escobedo could have hung up the apron.

Instead, he strapped on a bulletproof vest.

Now, at 71, the Marietta man leads a rare double life. He's a hair stylist. And a bounty hunter.

Think Vidal Sassoon meets Duane "Dog" Chapman. Only unlike Chapman — reality TV's blond bounty hunter — Escobedo's long, flowing hair is black. And Escobedo doesn't have an entire team backing him up. A self-defense expert, he often works alone.

"A lot of people, when they look at me, they expect an old man barely creeping along," he says. "That's not the issue here. What I mean is, I kick (expletive)."

On a recent morning, Escobedo pulls something out of his apron as he does highlights inside Fugi Hair, the Cobb County salon that bears his nickname. Then, with the flick of a wrist, Escobedo exposes a blade.

"You carry a knife?" says longtime customer Charlotte Gattis, a row of tinfoil glistening in her hair.

"Oh, yeah," Escobedo says. "I carry a lot of knives."

Gattis' eyes bulge. "I'm letting this man do my hair?"

Thousands have.

Escobedo first wielded clippers more than 50 years ago, in the Navy. He charged $2 for cuts that met military standards but had a little more style.

After serving in Korea, he returned to his native Texas and became one of the few men to attend beauty school — on the GI Bill. Escobedo was hooked from the moment he peered into that Houston beauty college. "I saw 200 or 300 women in this place," he says. "I said, 'I think I'm going to beauty school — to pick up chicks.' "

He picked up a career, too.

He styled hair in Texas, then Puerto Rico, where he earned a black belt in karate. Escobedo, who is now divorced, moved with his wife to Atlanta in 1974. They opened a salon on Peachtree Street, where clients could see their hair fibers under a microscope. It was called "Fugi and the Hair Doctor."

Eventually, Escobedo operated five metro Atlanta salons as well as a massage and beauty school at Lindbergh Plaza called Capelli Learning Center.

Escobedo, whose martial arts training expanded to muay thai, aikido and other disciplines, began teaching classes in self-defense to police officers and groups such as the Georgia Commission on Women. But when asked how he knew his tactics worked, Escobedo found he lacked street cred. So he got certified as a private investigator and took courses in bail recovery. Soon the master cosmetologist was also combing the streets. No one seemed to care that he is certified by Clairol and gets a thank-you in the book "Haircoloring in Plain English."

"He's in better shape than most people half his age," said Lewis Grady, risk loss prevention manager at James Bond Inc., a Cartersville firm where Escobedo does contract work. "He's a real asset."

A second-generation Mexican-American, Escobedo found his language skills in great demand, too. When Spanish speakers don't show up for court, Escobedo is often able to figure out where they hang out. "If the guy used to date a girl," he says, "that's great because she hates him and she'll tell me everything."

But bounty hunting, he says, isn't as glamorous as it is portrayed on TV. "It's a job that can get you killed," he says. "I deal with a lot of gang-bangers."

Back at the hair salon, Escobedo pulls a metal clip from his sleeve and slides it, ever so gently, into Gattis' hair. He's not giving her any old highlights. "We're doing marvelights," he explains. "They're marvelous." Escobedo, who studies Zen Buddhism, says his professions are like yin and yang. There's balance in holding a blow-dryer with two barrels, then packing a shotgun with one.

"I couldn't do the bail recovery thing 100 percent," he says, looking into a mirror covered with his collection of pink-, purple- and yellow–haired trolls. "It messes with your head."

Escobedo says he's yet to encounter one of his salon clients during his other line of work. Nobody, he says, moves in both those circles.

Well, almost nobody.


Education: graduate, Modern Beauty College in Houston; chemistry for cosmetologists diploma, Atlanta Junior College; expert certificate, Clairol Institute of Haircoloring.

Hair: Down

Equipment: Apron (black), thinning scissors, blending scissors, chucking scissors, razors, clippers, double-barrel 2000-watt Italian blow-dryer, curling irons, aluminum foil, hair tint, electric rollers, flatirons, curling irons, rattail comb, tapered barbering comb, clipper comb, cutting comb.

Philosophy: "If you work with your hands, you're a laborer. If you work with your hands and your mind, you're a technician. If you work with your hands, your mind and your heart, you're an artist."


Education: Private investigation certificate, Chattahoochee Technical College; member, International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association; dozens of courses, including "Speedcuffing," "Tactical Jaw & Limb Control" and "Street Weapon Defense."

Hair: Up

Equipment: Hat (black), metal detector, pepper spray, 40-caliber Glock, baby Glock, three knives (minimum), handcuffs (two pairs), bulletproof vest, leg irons, Remington 870 shotgun, flashlight, walkie-talkie.

Philosophy: "I'm a pacifist — with a propensity for violence." Also: "Sometimes it's chicken. Sometimes it's feathers."

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