Rybak Ride Along

Former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak wears his hair short around the ears, not too long on top, parted just to the right of center. I know a little too much about his coif because I once joined him on a trip to the barbershop.

It was 2004, and as a new writer with this magazine, I was hoping to do a short story on the mayor’s open houses—a monthly time slot set aside for constituents to drop by his office for a little face time (back before the term was synonymous with the Apple product). Unfortunately, nosy reporters were the only ones who seemed to know about the events, so by a quarter past the hour, Rybak had received only one guest.

In comparison to most politicians, Rybak comes across as relatively unguarded, spontaneous even, when he’s tweeting and crowd surfing. Still, I was plenty surprised when he paused our interview to ask, “You want to go with me to get my hair cut?”

If the people won’t come to the mayor, the mayor will go to the people.

Rybak’s security detail pulled the Prius out front. I pushed a pile of workout clothes off the seat, and the three of us zipped down to the Hi-Lake Barber Shop, an old-school neighborhood joint right down to the stack of Playboys and sign that read “regular haircut, $14; flattop, $15; good haircut, $35; new customer, $50.” Rybak chatted with customers as the white-haired proprietor buzzed his hair and trimmed his brows. (“My daughter tells me they’re too long—calls me a unibrow,” he explained.) On the way back downtown, we made a quick pit stop at Manny’s Tortas, where Rybak delivered a few trays of food to unsuspecting customers (one of whom proceeded to hit him up with an inspections question).

Rybak’s Hi-Lake Haircut, Photo by Mike Kirchen

When I returned to my office, I looked at the clock. I’d been gone all of 45 minutes. No wonder the energetic, indefatigable mayor—“a dancing PowerBar in a suit,” I wrote—had a reputation for getting things done.

A decade later, as the year comes to a close, we’ve chosen to reflect on 2014 through our Best of the Twin Cities feature, our Judgment Call matrix, and a profile of one of our most notable change makers, the now-former mayor. After 12 years of popular success in a position he had coveted since he was a kid, Rybak was a ripe subject with a big question to answer: What does a guy do after he’s checked “dream job” off his list?