NOW DEPARTING...

SO LONG, STAPLETON: TRIPS DOWN MEMORY LANE AND OTHER FLIGHTS OF FANCY.A DAY IN THE DEATH OF STAPLETON

9 a.m., Main Terminal
Flight attendant Eric Blake looks at himself in the mirror of Stapleton Terminal Barber Shop and waits to be noticed.

"Pretty handsome, right?" he says, without a trace of irony. "I'm growing out a flat-top, I've got the greatest job in the world, it's my first week working--I'm doing great."

"So you've never been to Stapleton before?" asks barber Dave Brown.
"My first time," Blake confirms, shrugging his dark-blue jacket into place and surveying his reflection one last time. "I'm a San Diegan flying out of Chicago. See you."

After Blake leaves their shop, Brown and partner Jack Lynd hold out for a few beats before they start laughing. They laugh so hard they have to sit down, each on a classic Sixties barber chair. Across the room, Johnny Richardson, who has shined shoes alongside Lynd and Brown for 25 years, looks up coolly from his newspaper, then goes back to minding his own business.

Imagine someone making his first flight into Stapleton during its last month as an airport. The barbers couldn't say why, exactly, but it was funny--he's got the greatest job in the world, he's doing great, he thinks he understands it all. Brown and Lynd have been at this Stapleton barber shop for 35 years now, and they still don't quite get it.

Not that they haven't tried, of course. They've paid scrupulous attention to every development in both the tonsorial and aviation industries.

"I certainly kept up with ever' plane there was," drawls Brown in his Missoura accent. "It was like the unveiling of a new car. It was very exciting. They would promote the heck out of those planes. When the jets came along, they'd fly the bartenders and barbers around for an hour or so, as a public-relations thing. See, we were the folks who got your undivided attention for fifteen minutes, and if we wanted to talk to you about jets, we could."

In 1960, when Brown and Lynd signed on at the new barber shop in the main terminal, the connecting concourses were little more than pens made of chain-link fence; passengers entered planes by rolling stairways. The airlines atoned for these primitive conditions with spit-and-polished personnel. Regularly trimmed hair and glossy shined shoes were the rule. "It seemed like a good franchise to buy into," Brown recalls. After working for the shop's original owner, Brown and Lynd bought out the business in 1963. At the time, a haircut cost $1.50. Today the same cut will set you back $8.

"Oh, we went through a bad time in 19 and 69," Brown remembers. "The long hair came in and business fell off 50 percent. The pilots saved us, though. They had to keep trimmed up."

"Well, the airlines tried to enforce a dress code," Lynd corrects, "but it didn't always work. Some of the fellows were, uh..."

Brown supplies the word. "Rebellious."
"There you go," says Lynd.
"Make sure you take note of that," Brown notes. "When you ask Dave a question, Jack answers. When you ask Jack, you get Dave."

"But for advice, you need Dave," Lynd adds. "He's about the best marriage counselor in the world. He's held together more marriages--and caused more divorces, come to think of it..."

"Oh, now," Brown interrupts, and the laughter starts up again. Once more, Richardson looks over. This time he's in mid-shine, buffing a pair of high-rent black loafers attached to a silver-haired businessman.

A pilot appears in the doorway. A loud pilot.
"This place is doomed!" he yells. "I'm gonna get the last haircut you boys do, isn't that right?"

"You bet," Brown yells back. "Cost you eight bucks."
"Not now, though," the pilot booms. "I gotta go to Oakland."
"No, let me," offers Lynd. In what seems like a practiced move, he removes the pilot's coat and hat, puts them on himself and pretends to leave the premises.

"Yeah, I'm a pilot," the pilot says, about to make himself comfortable, Oakland or no Oakland. "But it's not exactly at the top of the page, is it, boys?"

"He's also the proprietor of the Lucky Star Bar and Grill in Lucerne, Colorado," Lynd says proudly.

"Where we do live polka music for old guys like Jack," the pilot confirms.
For the past few weeks, Jack Lynd's been thinking about life as a polka-loving old guy. He hopes to begin that life on March 1, the day after Stapleton is scheduled to close, and the day after he and Brown exit the barbering business. They will not move their shop to Denver International Airport, although both consider the new facility "the most fantastic thing ever to hit Denver."

"But I been doing this for forty years," Lynd says. "I started with English polo ponies, actually, and then I began on people. Now I got some land in Kansas, and I plan to be a little dirt farmer."

"I'm going to travel," Brown says. "I've cut hair for people from all over the world, and I learned a lot about other people's culture. I'm going places. And yes, man, I will miss this place."

"Well, you got to miss it," Lynd exclaims. "It's its own little city. Days go by so fast."

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