The Coast News Group

The drugstore was the village’s grand central

DEL MAR — Decades ago during the racing season, the drugstore at 15th Street and Highway 101 was like Grand Central Station. There was a constant buzz from opening in the early a.m. until closing sometime around 11 p.m.
Owners and trainers were in early for a supply hoof Absorbine Jr., a liniment that was used on horses’ aching legs. Now it’s applied to tired legs of athletes. Also in early were jockies, who had a problem making the riding weight. They bought a laxative known as Pluto Water that brought near instant results.
During the day teenager Hodge Crabtree and some of his buddies would come into the store and ascend on two nickel pinball machines. A sign indicated they were for adult play only and there was no cash payout. Both rules were ignored. Hodge had learned how to manipulate the machines so he could play on a single nickel and win. In due time drugstore staff would cash him out and send him on his way. He always returned another day. His pop, a highly respected San Diego physician, had a standing order to charge his account for any monkey bizness incurred by his son — fully aware that Hodge was a typical kid growing up. One night Hodge pulled the master electric switch while his sister, Ellen, rode her horse into the store. Some damage was caused to merchandise and there was a lot of panic among customers.
Activity peaked again shortly after the races were over. Grooms and stable hands came in for their favorite brand of scotch or bourbon to stock up for the evening. On a bad day they settled for cheaper brands like Ten High or Sherry wine. Folks milled around waiting for the Daily Racing Form to arrive from L.A. It carried the next day’s entries and charts. Some folks filled the air with smoke from five-cent White Owl cigars or Raleigh cigarettes, which were 14 cents a pack.
Band music blared from the Knights Lounge at Del Mar Hotel until 2 a.m. but no one in the neighborhood complained.
It all was all over too soon and the drugstore went back to closing at 8 p.m. and the sale of Absorbine Jr., Pluto Water and Ten High plummeted.