Imagine a job where you set your own hours. There's no phone ringing all day. No computers or email. And no boss breathing down your neck.
If I had that job, I'd never want to retire.
That's the case with Benny Vallejo, otherwise known as Benny the Barber.
Benny has been cutting hair near Eighth Street and West Colorado Avenue since 1961.
In the same shop. Standing behind the same chair. Chatting and joking and combing and cutting hair for 52 years.
Been doing it so long he now cuts the hair of the sons and grandsons of some of his original customers. Been there so long his own full head of hair has changed from dark to silver. But even at 74, Benny shows no signs of quitting.
He is proud that in 52 years he has taken only a dozen sick days including three days for a bleeding ulcer, three days for a hernia and just three days to recover from a mild heart attack!
(I would have milked that heart attack for about three months, not days!)
I guess when you love your job, you don't like to call in sick. Of course, there's no one to call when you are a one-man operation. And there's no phone at Benny's west-side shop anyway.
I went to see Benny last week to learn the secret of his longevity.
What I found was a guy who clearly is happy with his work. And proud. And likes to meet new people, share a laugh and watch his beloved Denver Broncos.
In fact, his barbershop resembles a man cave with magazines targeting men and photos of classic street rods like the ones he collects. There are photos of his kids and grandkids. And a collection of photos of downtown Colorado Springs and the old Antlers Hotel dating to the 1930s.
But mostly it's a shrine to the Broncos and especially his favorite player, John Elway. There's a large commemorative poster showing Invesco Field on its opening game, Sept. 10, 2001, with the old Mile High Stadium standing behind it. Benny points to where he used to sit when he had season tickets.
And there are Elway photos and Broncos hats autographed by Elway and by former receiver Ed McCaffrey, another of Benny's favorite players.
There's other sports memorabilia including a hockey stick on the wall autographed by members of the Colorado College hockey team from about 2006 and inscribed: "To the best barber in Colorado Springs."
Those sentiments are echoed by customers I met in Benny's shop.
"Best barber ever," said Tim Spencer, who lives nearby and has been a loyal customer for about eight years.
"He's like a therapist," Tim said. "Any troubles you've got, you can talk to him about it. He gives good advice. Or he'll give you a good, objective opinion."
And Benny's advice is free. Says so on his price board. Haircuts cost $11. A beard trim is $2.50. A combo is $12. But advice is free.
I asked Benny how much he'd charge me to clean up my balding melon.
"It costs $11 to sit down in my chair," he said with a laugh. "It doesn't matter how much hair you have."
It had been a while since I had a professional cut my hair, so I took a seat and let Benny work his magic.
He showed me the techniques he perfected over the decades - how he uses a comb to feed hair to his electric clippers rather than just run the clippers through the hair.
He tapered the back of my neck and tamed the few wild hairs I have left on top. I actually looked respectable when he was done.
As he worked, we chatted nonstop.
Do you ever get bored, I asked.
"I have a lot of fun in here with the guys," Benny said of his regular customers who like to come, relax and talk about issues of the day and joke around.
Do you ever wish you'd done something else with your life?
"I have no regrets," he said. "I was 21. I was married with a son. I needed a job. So I went to barber college and started here in 1961 as an apprentice. I bought the business a year later. I've never been sorry I got into it."
As the son of Mexican immigrants, do you consider yourself a Latino barber?
"I'm an American and a native of Colorado Springs," Benny said. "You can be a Latino-American or whatever. But I'm an American."
Do you cater to any cultural groups?
"I'm just a barber," he said. "I cut anybody's hair. I do have Latino customers. But I don't cater to anyone.
"Poor or rich. Homeless or an attorney. It doesn't matter who you are. Just come in and take a seat. Just wait your turn, is all I ask."
Do you talk politics in your shop?
"I respect everybody," he said. "I leave the politics to my customers. I am neutral."
In fact, as we were chatting, he moved to his radio and changed channels right as Rush Limbaugh came on. Benny said Limbaugh violates his demand for respect of all views and beliefs. So Rush isn't welcome in Benny's shop.
I wondered how Benny has survived all the changing styles and even in the era of franchise hair styling shops where they log you in by computer and lure in customers with coupons sent out by e-blast.
"I don't even know how to turn a computer on," Benny said, laughing.
Don't go to his shop expecting gimmicks. He does have a television, but it's used mostly to watch football, including Benny's collection of Broncos games recorded on videotape.
That's OK with customers like Tim Spencer and Joe Grosso, who was driving by a couple of years ago, noticed the traditional barber pole and stopped in. He has been coming ever since.
"I like Benny," Joe said. "We share an interest in cars. And he does a good job."
So good, Joe said, he has even come to Benny to fix a bad haircut he got from another barber.
Benny laughed at the memory. It's the kind of moment that keeps Benny coming in Tuesdays through Fridays, walking in circles around his chair.
There have been other tributes, like the time a man walked in with his young son and asked Benny to cut his hair.
"They'd flown in from California so his son could get his first haircut from me," Benny said. "I had given the dad his first haircut years ago.
"Then he moved with his mother to California and grew up there. But he never forgot me. And when he got married and had a son, he wanted me to cut his hair.
"That was kind of neat."
Clearly he appreciates his loyal customers and feels lucky to be enjoying such a long career.
"Most of my friends are retired or dead," he said. "I still feel good. I can still do it. And I'd miss it if I left."
What, I asked, would Benny miss the most.
"The people," he answered quickly. "I'd miss the conversations. The contact with people. Connecting with them. If I retired, I wouldn't have the variety of people in my life."
And with that, he went to work on another head of hair, chatting and laughing and giving advice. For free.
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