06/09/2013 02:22 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2013

A Hair-Raising Experience: Bait and Switch

True confessions: I color my hair. Surely you're not surprised that a woman in her mid-fifties chooses this path? Every once in a while I consider letting it go gray, especially since my mom's (mostly) salt and some pepper hair so beautifully and gracefully changed color. But the act of going from dyed brown to gray appears to involve cutting my hair really short and more humility than I suspect I possess.

So every three weeks or so I make an appointment at a nearby salon to have a lovely young woman apply enough permanent hair color to convince passersby that at least my hair isn't ready for AARP. I could probably color it myself but I love my hairdresser's stories about her young children and the idea that all I have to do is sit and tip.

And then there was last week. When I noticed the first signs of emerging gray roots, I called to make an appointment with Mikayla. Unfortunately, the receptionist told me, she was on a two week vacation. Would I be willing to see one of the other four hairdressers? Confident that the formula for my particular color was written somewhere, I asked who was available on Friday any time after noon. I was given a 3 p.m. appointment with someone I'll call Julie. I looked her up on the website and she appeared experienced and looked nice, though she charges a bit more than Mikayla.

At 3 p.m on Friday, I walked into a crowded salon. Julie came over to see if I wanted to change the color. Nope, I replied, whatever Mikayla uses. A few minutes later I was in a chair and a woman who spoke little English swathed me in a gown. Then, surprisingly, she started to apply the color. Wait a minute, where is Julie, I asked. The assistant pointed toward another chair where Julie was happily chatting with a man whose hair she was cutting. Hmmm... I thought, I had a 3 p.m appointment with her?

I called over the shop's owner and asked why Julie wasn't working on me. He was vague -- something about her mixing my color but her assistant applying it. But, I said, I had made an appointment with her. He shrugged and went back to chatting with his customer. Around me, hairdressers were chatting easily with their customers while I sat grimly having color applied by a woman who didn't speak or engage with me. I'm sure she was competent. My hair color seems fine. But it seems so odd to me that I made an appointment with a hairdresser who spent all of 30 seconds with me. Why did I pay her instead of the assistant who actually did all the work? And why did Julie book two appointments for the same time when she intended to work on only one of us?

I was left feeling like a second class citizen. What should have been a pampering experience was instead galling. I wonder how often this happens and why Julie couldn't have spent the ten minutes required to apply my hair color. As someone who makes a living by providing consulting services, I would never consider taking someone's money for my time and then getting someone with less experience and knowledge to do the work.

I guess it's time to peruse the hair color aisle at my local drugstore.