Los Altos barber, customer still cutting it up after 63 years

Written by Robin Chapman - Special to the Town Crier   
WEDNESDAY, 08 APRIL 2009
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ROBIN CHAPMAN
Photo Photos Courtesy Of Robin Chapman

Ashley Chapman, shown during World War II, left, and above, gets his hair cut by fellow war vet Al Galedrige.

Editor’s note: Robin Chapman, who grew up in Los Altos and recently moved back to town, offers a first-person account of her father’s longtime friendship with Los Altos’ legendary barber, Al Galedrige.

One day in 1946, Ashley Chapman, a young U.S. Army veteran fresh from his service in World War II and newly arrived in the Bay Area, walked into a Palo Alto barbershop for a haircut. Barber Al Galedrige was just beginning his career at Jack Hoffman’s barbershop on University Avenue. He, too, was a war veteran, though his service had been in the U.S. Navy. Barber and customer began to chat and the two became friends.

Sixty-three years later, Galedrige still cuts Chapman’s hair.

Galedrige, 82, tells people that Chapman, 89, is his “customer of longest-standing. I don’t like to say he’s my oldest customer,” Galedrige said with a laugh. “Not at my age!”

Of course, many changes have taken place in their lives. Galedrige moved from Palo Alto to Los Altos in 1950 to start his own business. Al’s Barber Shop, originally on Main Street, now faces the downtown parking plaza behind Main. Chapman, too, moved to Los Altos in 1950 and built a home and raised a family.

When my sister Kimberly and I were toddlers, Dad often brought us with him to Al’s Barber Shop. I remember how exotic the shop seemed to me. It smelled of hair tonic, men’s aftershave and tobacco. But Al was gentle with children and was always ready with a Tootsie Roll for my sister and me when Dad’s haircut was complete. Al is still handing out Tootsie Rolls to the children of his customers.

When they met, both men felt lucky to be alive. During World War II, Galedrige, still a teenager, served as a Gunner’s Mate, Second Class, on an LCI 466. LCI stands for Landing Craft Infantry, a small ship designed to pound the beaches with 40-millimeter rounds, then deliver the Marines when they were ready to land. LCIs were always in the thick of things. Galedrige was in the Battle of Saipan, where he saw another LCI take a hit, killing 14 men. And he was present at the bloody invasion of Iwo Jima, where his own ship was hit and five of his shipmates lost. Somehow, Galedrige survived the war without a scratch.

My father served as an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, building runways and airports. He was in the Battle of Okinawa, where he earned a Bronze Star. He, too, had bullets and shrapnel whiz past his head, and he, too, saw friends lose their lives. It’s a safe bet to say these experiences bonded their 63-year friendship.

There is, of course, a practical reason for the relationship.

“If a man says to me, ‘How do you get a good haircut like that?’” Chapman said. “I say, ‘It’s easy. I just sit down in the barber chair and say: ‘Hi Al.’”

My father, “Chap” in the barbershop, has completely lost his hearing, so he and Al can’t chat the way they once did during haircuts.

“But that’s OK,” Galedrige said. “Chap has lost his hearing, but I’ve lost my hair!”

My father, on the other hand, still sports the thick thatch he’s always had, though now, as he approaches 90, it is snowy white.

Has the barber ever been jealous of that beautiful head of hair? “Oh, to this very day!” said Galedrige with feigned dismay, as the barbershop erupted in guffaws.

`“You know Chap,” Galedrige said, as my father began to rise from the barber chair on a recent Saturday. “On our 50th anniversary, I gave you a free haircut. And you know what? When you turn 100, I think I just might do it again.”

Galedrige will have to make good on that promise.