It was the Summer of Love – 1967. The new and strange creatures called Hippies were beginning to show up in Tulsa, as were the drugs they enjoyed. I had seen them at Woodward Park dancing through the trees, and once watched a hairy guy – obviously tripping on LSD – stirring a trash drum full of rainwater and garbage, reciting some otherworldly chant.
It's a short walk up the street from the park to Utica Square shopping center. That summer I had, along with my brother and friends, done some petty shoplifting. Before the title crime, the biggest heist had been stealing a knapsack from Vandever’s Boy Scout department, and then taking it into the TG&Y five and dime and filling it with squirt guns.
Encouraged by that successful operation, my brother Don and I decided to advance our budding careers in crime by robbing the pharmacy.
Because my brother was older and dark haired and I was younger with light hair, we often pretended we were the teenage detectives Frank and Joe Hardy. We had read almost every Hardy Boys book, and sometimes trailed “suspects” to practice not being spotted.
The Hardy Boys would never rob a pharmacy, of course, so on this day we were Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, the spies from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show. Yes, they also wouldn’t have robbed a pharmacy, but there were only two sets of dark and light haired heroes available, and spies better fit the sinister nature of stealing.
We rounded up our crew – Bruce “Big House” Burkett and Greg “Carrot Top” Beddingfield. Bruce was 12, my brother’s age, and got his nickname because he lived in the very nice neighborhood south of the shopping center. The rest of us came from the far more modest accommodations to the north. Greg was 9, as I was, and had orange-not-red hair.
Greg was, as they say, a "piece-a-work.” For as young as he was he had post-adolescent balls. I once watched from a distance as he ran up the ramp of a delivery truck unloading at the TG&Y, grabbed a Mattel Thing Maker, and was around the corner and gone in a flash. The delivery man never knew it happened.
The pharmacy was across the street from the shopping center, on Utica Avenue, just south of 21st street. We had individually cased the joint that morning and knew the side screen door that led to behind the counter where the “good” drugs were kept wasn’t locked.
We assembled across the road to create a plan. We decided Greg and I would get the Pharmacist to come to the front of the store, leaving the drug area unguarded. Bruce and Don would handle the snatch-and-run task through the side door, grabbing whatever they could that had commercial value.
Greg and I crossed the street south of the mark and waited for Bruce and Don to get into position to the north. When Don gave the high sign we went into action.
Greg and I burst through the front door fighting. We rolled on the floor, throwing some convincing punches and cursing. The old lady behind the front counter screamed. The Pharmacist ran from behind the drug counter to break us up. We resisted separating for as long as possible, until we knew there had been enough open time for our partners to finish. We then stood up, shook hands, and ran from the store hootin’ and hollerin’.
We took a roundabout path to the meeting place a few blocks north - some bushes with a “room” at the center across from Swan Lake. We arrived at the same time as Bruce and Don, who carried the box of drugs.
We were excited and laughing. The operation had gone as smoothly as we hoped. The box was fairly large. Don grabbed the top flaps and tore them back to reveal...
Pharm grade cocaine?
None of the above.
We had stolen a whopping case of Alka Seltzer. We had stolen a whopping case of Alka Seltzer and we were thrilled! What did we know from drugs? This was great!
But what do 4 kids hding in the bushes across the street from Swan Lake do with a case of Alka Seltzer?
We opened the packages and started throwing the tablets into the lake to watch them fizz. It had been half drained so the fountains could be worked on, but no workers were around. We hopped the fence, and what tabs we didn’t throw into the lake were strategically placed between the then dry rocks of the fountain in anticipation of a “mysterious and glorious fizzing” happening once the lake (it’s really a big pond) was refilled.
Ah, the simple joys of childhood...
My 3rd grade class picture
Swan Lake Tulsa, Oklahoma