What's that saying about lipstick on a pig? Or a new dress on an old…
Well, you get the idea.
Not exactly the phrase I'm looking for; neither makeup nor evening wear, pigs nor prostitutes are on my mind. But in hopes of adding to our lexicon, this is: You can put a fresh coat of paint on an old barbershop and it will still be an old barbershop.
I pass through the intersection of Chevy Chase and Glenoaks in Glendale often. I went to elementary school just up the road; played Asteroids, Pac Man and other seminal video games at what is now a chiropractic office on the corner; bought candy bars for a quarter at Cañon Liquor while waiting for my mother to pick me up, too lazy to ride my bike home.
In my mind, the area is unchanged, frozen in time and place. But one recent day something caught my eye, like a skywriter across an otherwise familiar blue sky.
Ernie's Barber Shop has a new coat of paint.
Bright white has replaced khaki green; ribbons of red, blue and white streak one wall in ubiquitous barber-pole style. So I decided to stop in at the barbershop of my youth, the one against which I measure all others.
But before I'm allowed to get a trim, I'm treated to impressive feats of prestidigitation by owner and namesake Ernie Lind. Magic has replaced basketball and tennis as a hobby for the 82-year-old neighborhood icon who came to Glendale in 1946 by way of Lodi and the Merchant Marines.
Despite new paint and age, little else has changed inside the barbershop Ernie opened in 1955. It continues to be a hub of activity, banter and grooming for generations of men.
“Never give them a good haircut,” Ernie jokes, telling me his secret to repeat customers. “They’ll be too embarrassed to go anywhere else for fear someone will think their mother cut their hair.”
The constant flow of customers — fathers, sons and grandfathers — tells you Ernie has done more than trick people into returning for more than five decades. In an age when longevity in one career, let alone one workplace, is rare, Ernie embodies the value of doing something right and doing it consistently. He’s let success come not by fame and fortune, but by the generations that continue to walk through his door for a trim.
Ever humble, Ernie attributes much of his long and successful tenure not to himself, but to the barbers handling the other chairs.
“Most of the guys that worked for me are fun guys. You kid around, have a good time around them.”
It's that kind of hospitality that men look for when they seek a self-imposed timeout from home or office. I'll let you in on a little secret: A good haircut is secondary. Luckily at Ernie's, you get both.
If such simple wisdom has made Ernie's Barber Shop the landmark it is, Ernie's grandson Zach has his work cut out for him. Ernie has given him not only the honorary first chair, but also the keys to the business with his grandfather's blessing to cut the hair of his customers’ great grandchildren and beyond. And judging by the young Lind's affable nature, the shop is in good hands.
“Make him look like a gentleman,” Ernie instructs his grandson as Zach starts my haircut.
Trial by fire.
Before surrendering to the barber in his DNA, Zach was a phlebotomist. As he uses a straight razor to tidy the back of my neck — classy, old school barbering — I recall the barbershop's history as a place of blood-letting.
“We still do!” Ernie says excitedly, and I half expect him to make leaches appear from a top hat. Thankfully, Zach's hands are steady and skilled.
“A good barbershop becomes a part of the community,” Zach tells me, “a part of the neighborhood and city.”
He's learned more than how to cut hair from his grandfather.
So, does new management mean a new name along with that new paint job?
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says Zach, assuring us that the name “Ernie's” stays on the sign outside.
“He’s going to start giving good haircuts though,” Ernie adds.
Styles and attitudes may change over time, but friendliness and a good haircut never will. New paint's nice, but it's what's inside that matters; blending in to the fabric of a community and our everyday lives can bring rewards unimagined. For all of us.
Ernie has seen the streets, hills and city outside his shop window transformed over the course of 56 years. But he's proven that there's magic in a place that's able to withstand the test of time.
PATRICK CANEDAY will be signing his new book “Crooked Little Birdhouse” at Simply Coffee in Burbank Saturday, July 16 from 5 to 8 p.m. Reach him at www.patrickcaneday.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.