After a short summer job on the Ocean City boardwalk, I was left with what to do with the remaining summer. Leon Evans had been working at Pepper’s Pharmacy on our school’s DE program and told me they were looking for summer help.
It was a great job. Mostly, I did the 4 pm to closing shift and the high point was delivering prescriptions at about 8 pm. This meant going out on my own, unsupervised, a professional driver of a commercial van, at night, to all different places. What was not to like? I was warned not to pick up friends, but Leon was exempt as a fellow employee. We never worked the same shift, so we often went along on each other’s deliveries.
Dr. Pepper, or one of the managers, would hand me about six stapled brown bags with the sales slips and addresses. I would get careful instructions on how to go and in which order to deliver them. A typical delivery would be something like walking up to the dark porch on a big, old Owens Avenue home and ringing the bell. The porch light would come on. I could see in the etched glass of the door a little old lady approach and call out, “Who is it?”
“All right, just a moment.” Click, click, click, as she undid the locks. “Thank you very much, Sonny. Wait here.” She would toddle off and return with a quarter tip, and I would be off to the next delivery, the same scenario all over again.
Some deliveries were special. I would deliver the narcotic Demerol to a nursing home on South Lansdowne Avenue. I would pick up a fifth of whiskey waiting at the State Store and deliver this medication to a home for retired priests. There were occasional large deliveries to Villanova’s athletic program, but that was a day delivery and only Leon was trusted with that.
Other times, I would stack shelves, always necessary, and operate the cash register, always precedent if a customer was waiting. I learned the lost art of counting out change. (Just a month ago, a store computer suddenly went down and the teen-aged clerk had no idea how much change to give me.)
Beside Dr. Pepper, there was a part-time pharmacist, Bob, who now owns the business, and two young managers, Dillard, the archetypical bow-tied, officious nerd, but kindly and likeable, and Ed, “Mr. Cool” in our eyes. They all got along like immature frat brothers and there was much laughing, practical joking, and goosing. Leon warned me to kneel, never bend over, when stacking the shelves. Still, customers must have wondered about the occasional, unseen, “Yelp!”
Dillard was known by only one name, like “Radar” on MASH, and who he resembled in manner. Ed, married with children, had a great car with soft leather upholstery that, even while new, he lent to Leon for our Senior Prom. That’s the kind of people they were.
One afternoon, as I was coming on, Leon, who was leaving, quickly whispered, “Do you know what you did last night? When you put out the trash, you left the back door wide open. The police discovered it about 2 am and thought there was a burglary going on. Dr. Pepper had to come in to be sure nothing was taken.”
I cringed, but even Dr. Pepper thought it was a great joke. I was never sure whether I was reprimanded or praised for pulling off the best stunt in years.
At the end of the summer, as I was preparing to go off to Penn State, Dr. Pepper drew me aside. He wanted me to stay. Eventually, he told me, I could work up to Dillard’s job.
I passed on the offer.