Memories with Richard Bleil
Sometimes old-fashioned is better. With all of our advances, social media, phones, ride shares and so forth, the younger generations will never understand the joy of a simple drug store soda. When I was very young, maybe six or seven, I still remember my mother taking me on the bus to the local Y for my swim lessons. I used to watch the bus driver and actions he used to drive the bus. I really couldn’t watch my dad drive (back before women routinely got driver licenses) since I always sat in the back seat. One day, I said to my mother that I knew how the bus worked. I explained the pedal to make the bus go, the pedal to stop it, and that you could change the direction of the bus by turning the wheel. Apparently, the driver was quite impressed.
I guess I was always observant. I don’t remember it, but when I was a toddler, I was on a local children’s show called “Skipper Isle”. I’m told I stole the spotlight. Of course, it was my mom who told me this, so who really knows. But the reason I was the focus of the show was because, apparently even then, I was something of a rebel. As the other children were behaving, sitting in circles and doing whatever activity it was that they were supposed to be doing, I was up and about and looking at the cameras, the lights and the curtains, exploring this strange world of the movie studio. As such, the camera was focused on me far more than the other children. What a popularity hog I was.
Back to the Y, the swimming pool was quite large. Between the locker room and the pool were the showers. We were required to shower before getting into the swimming pool, and I still remember the instructor pulling my head harshly to one side and yanking down on my earlobe to see if I showered by checking behind my ear. There were concrete bleachers of sorts on one side for parents to watch, and on occasion they would invite the parents to watch a lesson (no doubt to convince them that they need to keep buying lessons). Usually, nobody was there, and the class was all boys. At the end of the lesson, usually we went part way up the stairs and removed our swim trunks. I don’t understand why we did so there and not the shower, but it was just the way things were done. When the parents were there, though, we removed our trunks in the shower. I do remember the day that parents were there, and somehow, forgot that I was supposed to remove my trunks in the bathroom. That was my only pornographic performance.
After my lessons, my mom would take me to the drug store on the corner. This might seem odd to those too young to remember, but the drug store was where you went to get a soda. But it was more than a soda. Back then they were called “Nitrates” (as I recall), and the drugstore basically had all of the soda syrups and seltzer water. As opposed to modern pop where everything is perfectly measured and bottled, they would mix the syrup with the soda at the machine (similar to how fast-food pop dispensers do today). The ratio was never really perfect, so usually you would get a little sweeter pop. But they also had additives.
I guess it’s like modern ice-cream shops where you can get whatever sprinkles you want, but at the drug store, they were different flavored syrups. Cherry and vanilla were among the most popular (along with lime), but I always liked chocolate. Yes, I would have a chocolate coke (called a “brown cow” if memory serves). When Coke introduced cherry, I was so excited. I figured it was just a matter of time before chocolate would become available. Then came vanilla. Then came, well, I’m still waiting.
But it wasn’t just the soda. Heck, you can go to some restaurants today and get flavored pop in just about any combination you want, but it’s not the same. Oh, for people my age it brings back memories, but what’s missing today is the social aspect. What’s missing is sitting at the counter on the stools and enjoying the beverage with others. It was such a powerful social event that even the Rolling Stones sang of it in “You Don’t Always Get What You Want,” when Mick sang, in the part where he struck up a conversation in a drug store, “We decided that we would get a soda, my favorite flavor, cherry red”.
There’s no real point to this blog, I guess. Just a walk down memory lane. And if anybody finds a copy of that particular Skipper Isle episode, please let me know.