UNITED STATES—In one way the earthquake had been a blessing in disguise for the drug store. People were actually happier with the new little pharmacy where they could call in the prescription, park their car right out in front, pick up their prescription and be off, but still not without that touch of camaraderie that was Johnson Drug’s signature.
Also, the new location jettisoned the headache of the front end, a hodgepodge of everything for sale under the sun, yet the radically downsized counters of the new store were excuse enough for mom and dad to still go on sprees to the gift show in San Francisco to pick out a few curios and trinkets to sell. Indeed, Johnson Drug store had been pared to its core: the pharmacy.
After the earthquake, the relief pharmacist Jack became grouchy; nobody had ever seen him so low. He developed a case of shingles—the disease with a silly name—and had to be hospitalized. Dad was back at the store full time. Jack died as a result of the disease with the silly name, and Bonnie Rose came in. Like Jack, she worked considerably below the going rate for relief pharmacists. Dad wanted to give her a raise, and she wouldn’t take it. Bonnie, a very lovely soul, didn’t want to accept it; she considered Johnson Drug her “mission work.”
By the last year (2006), Dad had stretched his years of service well into his mid-seventies. My dad failed toward the end, his back and his mind. Bonnie, who worked with him daily noticed it more than my mom, who shared a single and not very talkative dinner with Dad in the evening. Bonnie was terrified that he might slip and give a customer the wrong medication.
When dad was working alone, the pharmacy tech was really filling the prescriptions; dad sat in the mess in the office and pored over checkbooks, as the deaf man seeks to find a tune from the lost notes to a symphony. Oh, but he did have one last great run. My mom came down to visit us in Los Angeles, and dad would be running the store solo. Mom was really worried about how it would turn out, but he filled a record 170 prescriptions those days and went out like a champ, tired but elated.
His profession, the source of annoyance was also the source of buoyant spirits which were so infectious on those days when he was on a roll. A new annoyance was Medicare part D, which made things especially tough on the independent pharmacies. In 2005, my parents let it be known through private channels that the store was for sale. And the drug store’s old nemesis, Long’s, came back into the picture. It became apparent that after fending them off, staying the course, and outliving a dozen other independent pharmacies that bit the dust in Watsonville, the big fish of Long’s would swallow up the minnow of Johnson Drug. This was not the ending that we all desired, it was a surrender instead of victory. The shark was back; years earlier Long’s had wanted to buy the store.
The papers went to Long’s main office and the months passed by. When the contract came back, after meeting my parents’ price, they had slashed the offer by $80,000 and the deal was derailed. They had wanted to be out of the store by the previous year, as a result Johnson Drug faced Medicare Part D, a drug program to “help” pay seniors’ prescriptions. It left customers angry without their prescriptions and waiting with short fuses. The long and the short of it was that multiple insurance companies paid back the pharmacist in slow and delayed driblets. As business limped on this year, my parents reached into their own pockets to the tune of $75,000—and all the small pharmacies were equally under attack. At this point, the pharmacy turned into a full-fledged charity.
To be continued…