RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The days of the witty banter punctuated by television news and the whirr of hair clippers are in their autumn in the small, two-person barber shop in the Kendrick Club.
Moses "Mo" Urquiza and Rudy Alvarado are hanging up their barber's jackets and retiring at the end of September, after collectively working for almost a century at Randolph.
The Kendrick Club barber shop is more than a place to get a haircut. The room itself is rather bland with muted yellow walls and worn grey, heavy rubber mats surrounding the chrome-plated circular base of the chairs. Mo and Rudy, the names by which their customers know the barbers, are part of the conversation, the inside jokes and friendship which makes their shop welcoming.
Mr. Urquiza drapes a cutting cape across the shoulders of a customer, closing it in the back at the top as the two have idle, friendly conversation. The man sits in the worn brown and chrome-plated barber chair as they talk about sports and the usual small talk -- sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in English. Mr. Urquiza doesn't need to ask much about the haircut he's about to give.
The occasional lull in conversation is filled in by local news and other programming from the small television on an ornate table on one side of the room, below a window with closed aluminum blinds.
Mr. Urquiza said he started working as a barber because he needed a job 48 years ago.
"I had no intention of being a barber," he said.
Mr. Urquiza said he was able to use the G.I. Bill to pay for school after he was discharged honorably from the military - something he doesn't like to talk about. He spent five years after finishing school working at a gas station washing cars and pumping gas. He didn't like it very much.
In 1962 he started working at the Enlisted Club at Randolph as a barber, when it was the Randolph NCO Club.
When he is standing next to the barber chair, Mr. Urquiza is his own boss. Neither he nor Mr. Alvarado work in the evenings or weekends, Mr. Urquiza takes walk-in customers and Mr. Alvarado takes appointments.
"When I started barbering, a haircut was 85 cents," Mr. Urquiza said.
It's now $8 in their shop and $7.50 in the Base Exchange.
"Our business is mostly retirees these days, "Mr. Alvarado said, looking down at the head of hair he was trimming.
"There aren't as many GIs," Mr. Urquiza added about their clientele.
Although their business is mostly their old friends, loyal customers and retirees, they also have many younger customers. Many of the younger ones are second- and third-generation customers.
A young boy sat in Mr. Alvarado's chair for a haircut. He is one of many third-generation customers who come in to get a haircut.
"That's my grandson," said Georgia LeBlanc, pointing to Taylor LeBlanc, the boy in Mr. Alvarado's chair.
Mr. Alvarado began the usual preparatory work while asking Taylor how he wanted his hair cut.
"I get a lot of third generations," Mr. Alvarado said as his attention turned to cutting Taylor's hair, which was short and cut to Air Force standards.
For a moment the room was quiet while the television news filled the silence between scissor snips and the drone of the hair clippers and vacuum. Mr. Alvarado uses a straight razor to trim the edges of the boy's hair as he does with other customers.
Marty Roth, a retired command chief master sergeant, sat down for a haircut in Mr. Urquiza's chair.
"I've been coming here since 1995, he said as Mr. Urquiza started cutting his hair. "I was active duty here then I retired."
"I've been trying to get him to style my hair like Rudy's," he said, looking briefly at Mr. Alvarado.
"I've always worn my long sideburns because it's my trademark," Mr. Alvarado replied without looking. His attention was on the haircut he was giving. His hairstyle reminds one of Elvis Presley to a lesser degree.
Mr. Roth said people come back to the same place because they know Mr. Urquiza and Mr. Alvarado and what to expect, like seeing old friends. It's not impersonal like a mall hair stylist can be.
"I can start BS-ing about the weather, I don't need to worry about the haircut," Mr. Roth said. "I come in every other Friday. I don't remember once when [Mr. Urquiza] wasn't here."
Mr. Urquiza laughed a little and turned to point to the corner of the counter where a cash register sits idle and incomplete.
"I'm always here and they stole the register," Mr. Urquiza joked about the missing equipment.
He said it wasn't really stolen; the computer part was being repaired and will be back. The cash drawer still works and since the shop doesn't take credit cards, it's not much of a difference whether the register is there or not. They don't have any of the trappings of a retail business, don't worry about credit cards and don't have a corporate structure, managers or employees.
Tito Castaneda sat down in Rudy's chair while Mr. Roth was speaking.
"I've been coming here for 17 years," he said as Mr. Alvarado began some preparatory work before Mr. Castaneda's haircut.
"He stayed with him from hair down to nothing," Mr. Roth said about Mr. Castaneda's bald scalp, his hairstyle of choice. In addition to removing scruff from Mr. Castaneda's head, Mr. Alvarado used scissors to trim his eyebrows and a straight razor to clean up around his ears and neck.
"With this kind of haircut, the barber can't go wrong," Mr. Alvarado said as he finished Mr. Castaneda's haircut.
Everyone in the room laughed. The barber shop seems to be more of a social gathering where certain people happen to leave with shorter or neater hair. The conversation stops momentarily as the television news tells the room about weather, local sports and other news including the two recent tornadoes which tore up parts of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Tropical Storm Hermine, which left debris all over Randolph.
The barbershop banter continued, including voices from the television which were being ignored in favor of sports scores, weekend plans and the rapidly-approaching storm outside.
After Mr. Alvarado finished Mr. Castaneda's haircut, the two walked over to the cash drawer in the corner.
"I'm going to put up a sign that says 'pay for two, the next month is free.'" Mr. Alvarado said with a grin in reference to his retirement at the end of September.
The people waiting chuckled and smiled with the subtle joke.
Mr. Alvarado finished the transaction as the two men spoke quietly. The banter continued elsewhere in the small room as people glanced at the darkening grey sky, moving the blinds a little to do so. Raindrops on the window started to distort the view.
After his retirement Mr. Urquiza said he'll keep himself busy working around his house, inside and out.
"I have a lot to do outside, things I'll never finish," he said.
Some of the barbers' longtime customers planned a retirement celebration for Thursday, their last day, in the Kendrick Club.
The party is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. with a short presentation. Mariachis are scheduled from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and snacks will be provided. The organizers are accepting contributions to help with expenses.
For more information, call Emilio Serrano at 650-4254or Marty Roth at 885-4841.