Last updateMon, 23 Oct 2017 3pm

Al the barber's retirement marks end of an era: Other Voices

I was personally disappointed at the minimal coverage the Town Crier gave to Al Galedrige’s retirement (“Al the barber bids farewell,” April 9). While Al may prefer it that way, I must disrespectfully provide some commentary on his truly historical Los Altos barber shop.

My first encounter with Al’s Barber Shop was in the early 1970s after my discharge from the Marines. I was experiencing a little culture shock, as every barber I tried wanted to “style” my hair and required that I make an appointment. Thankfully, I discovered Main Street in downtown Los Altos. As I entered Al’s, I heard him on the phone explaining, “I don’t take appointments. You need to come down, take a seat and wait your turn.” It only got better when I sat down, noticing some less-than-appropriate magazines at the back of the shop and the continuous banter among Al, his partner Louis Piro and their customers. I had found my barber shop.

Most of his customers have heard Al’s life stories: watching the bombing of Pearl Harbor from his family’s dairy farm on Diamond Head; his being sent off to Mountain View to wait out the war; his enlistment in the Navy; his boat nearly destroyed by shore artillery while supporting the Underwater Demolition Teams (now the SEALs) clearing the water for the upcoming invasion.

Probably less well known was the Al who encountered a friend of mine whose car had stalled on El Monte Avenue. He was passing by with his wife on the way to a formal event. In his tuxedo, Al put down a blanket and carefully got under my friend’s car, removing a blanket that had wrapped around her axle. Then there was the party in Mexico with his son’s construction company. Apparently, there was some dispute over the bill serious enough to involve the local police. I remember clearly Al’s explanation: “Just because I was standing next to the waiter when he fell backwards out the window, the police thought I had something to do with it.”

Things changed for the barber shop when a building remodel moved the shop’s entrance from Main Street to the alley. Al assured me that he was now on the “plaza,” not the alley. I think that both the shop and the character of Main Street lost something with that change.

During construction, Louis retired and Al rented a chair at Balisimo Salon. We all had to get used to no longer being in a man’s world. I remember waiting for my haircut along with one of Al’s longtime customers, perhaps Gus Mozart, both of us uncomfortably staring at the wall. The magazine selection was totally lost on us.

Al, the gentleman, accommodated the rules at Balisimo. However, Al took ill for a few weeks and Louis came out of retirement to cover his chair. I remember clearly Louis standing next to me with a razor in his hand when a provocatively dressed Balisimo customer passed in front of us. I told Louis, “I thought you were going to cut off my ear.” His classic reply, I’m sorry to say, is not printable in a family newspaper.

I hope I speak for all of Al’s customers in wishing Al a well-deserved and fruitful retirement. I hope he misses us as well. Al’s retirement marks the end of a Los Altos era.

Jim Fuller is a Los Altos Hills resident.

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