“COMICS & COUGH MEDICINE”*
By Salvador Navarrete
Photos by Sal Navarrete and Manuel J. Escamilla, Archivist – Santa Ana History Room
I was saddened when I heard that the Bristol Drug store was going to be torn down by the city as part of the Bristol street widening project. The Bristol Drug Co. (store) built in 1948 was an old school neighborhood pharmacy that brings back Santa Ana childhood memories for me. Firstly, because it was where my mother would get our cough medicine and whatever medicine we needed; second, it was where I used buy my comic books when I was a kid back in the mid to late 70s. Anytime my dad would give me a buck or two, I would literally run to the Bristol Drug store, which was about half a mile from where I lived in the Artesia barrio. I would run, then catch my breath, walk, and then take off running again, sometimes almost getting hit by the passing cars as I was crossing the street. With the money jingling in my pockets, I could not wait to see what new comic books had arrived on the shelf. Back in those days, the comics were 20 cents to a quarter, so I could buy at least 8 to 10 comic books with a couple of dollars when my mom or dad gave me feria (cash, bread, dough etc). I must admit, I would sometimes even sneak into my mom’s purse and grab some loose change to get my comic book fix.
The Bristol Drug store always had a great selection of comic books. When you would walk into the store, there was a long rack up against the wall with new comic books neatly arranged in their slots. I would buy anything from Richie Rich, Archie, Disney, DC, but my favorite was Marvel Comics. In my opinion, they were some of the greatest comic books ever made, especially in the 60s and 70’s era—what they call “The Golden Age Of Comics”: The Avengers ,The Hulk, X Men, The Fantastic Four, Two Gun Kid, Daredevil, Iron Man, Black Panther, The Thing, Silver Surfer, not to mention the great villains, storylines, art, and humor from the great Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and so many talented artist and writers.
My favorite comic book, however, was Spider-man because he was funny (he would make jokes while battling some bad guy), he crawled up walls, kicked ass, and was a kid like me. I could relate to some of the stuff that would happen to him, he always had some type of problem that he would try to work out by the end of the story or if not …to be continued in the next issue, so you had to wait a week to see what would happen. Growing up with three sisters, I would pretend I was Spider-man shooting my webs at them with my fingers pressed up to my palm just like the way Spider-man would activate his web shooters. I would also crawl up in the hallway walls with my arms and legs pressed up against both walls; I could go all the way up to the ceiling and scare the crap out of my sisters and mom. I was a nerdy kid in elementary school ..so I would get picked on sometimes by bullies. I would sometimes wish I had Spider-man powers to kick some ass on these bullies. When things were not too happy at my house or some kind of family problem, I would read my comic books. My comics would take me into another world. If my friends were not around to play, I could get lost for hours reading these awesome tales, at the same time, learning words I never knew, feeding my head and letting my imagination grow wild.
By the time I was 12 years old I had amassed a huge comic book collection. I had maybe a thousand or so, and I took good care of them too. They were not all messed up or torn up, but when I got into my later teen years, I stopped buying comics. I thought I was too cool and got into hanging out with my Homies. I started getting into trouble, partying down, getting high, and all that stuff. One day, me and my homeboy Sammy wanted to buy some weed, but we didn’t have any money, so the first thing that came into my mind was to sell the comic books I had stored in some boxes. We took a couple of shopping carts and wheeled the boxes to this comic book shop down the street and sold them for nothing, just to catch a buzz. To this day, I have always kicked myself for it, but not for the value of what they would be worth now, but because they were such a fantastic part of my childhood that was so much fun. Now, all I have is the memory of those days.
Unfortunately, now the Bristol drug store is gone too. I would tell my kids all the time, “You see that place? I used to buy my comic books from there when I was a kid.” I would tell them my story every time we pass the Bristol drugs and they would say, “Yeah dad, we know, you used to buy your comic books there when you were a kid.”
I heard that the city of Santa Ana was going to knock the place down very soon and I wanted to take some photos before they would do so. I would frequently pass by there all the time, but, for some reason, I never had a camera, or I was in a rush, I had no time to park, or my cell phone took bad pictures. It was either one thing or another. Until, one afternoon, I passed through there and the demolition of Bristol drugs had already begun. They tore down the side and back walls of the structure leaving just the facade standing. The workers had left for the day to continue the work the next day. I thought to myself “I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of this place, but at least the façade is still up and I could take a photo of what was left. So, I parked my ride and walked around some of the rubble of bricks, concrete and iron construction rods still sticking out of the ground, looking at the empty space where this building once stood for 63 years.
I took out my new cell phone that took better pictures. I started framing a nice shot, but because my phone was new to me, I didn’t know how to adjust it. I couldn’t take the damn pictures, and I was already running late to a Deejay event I had to go to. So, I looked at the place that was the Bristol Drug Co. for the last time, said thanks for the comic books and the cough medicine, and I drove away…..To be continued…
“Ras” Salvador Navarrete
*This story was first published in Santanero #5