Rick Jones’s spirit remains “aye for an eye.”
For Jones, optician and owner of The Eyeglass Store, COVID-19 is not the first challenge he has had to deal with in nearly 40 years in the business, including 22 years in Hood River.
His “Eye AM Rick” sign at Second and Cascade streets turns change into identity, and it may be familiar to long-time Hood River residents; days can seem like a disorienting loop but anyone wondering about the “Eye AM” sign should not be imagining themselves going back in time.
Why the “Eye AM”? The answer dates back about 10 years, and rests on the distinction between an optician and an optometrist.
“I had that from the last time, I had ‘eye exams’ on the sign but the state told me I couldn’t do it that way without a doctor,” Jones recalled.
Turning Eye Exams to “Eye am,” Jones complied with the first, state-ordered, revision he had to make to the sign. (As an optician Jones fills vision prescriptions but does not provide exams.) He altered the sign so that in addition to “The Eyeglass Store” he kept “Eye AM” — a sort of existentialist statement.
A few years later, he partnered with an optometrist — and Dr. Dale Bricker’s name went on the sign and “Eye exams” was restored.
Bricker left this spring, joining Cascade Eye Center in The Dalles, so Jones took steps to update the sign again, but he preserved the “Rick” from the doctor’s last name.
The change back was not without incident.
“I got up there with a hairdryer, to remove some of the letters but it was real hard, and I thought, ‘I gotta take it down.’ After 20 years it all snapped off. I was here moving the ladder and (the sign) came down and almost landed on my head.” He paid $700 to have the sign put back up.
“I looked at it and, thought, 'Om, Eye Am Rick' (“Om” being a spiritual syllable of consciousness).
“I’m on my own again,” Jones said.
With a reduction in his 22-year patient load, Jones said, “I’m on fumes, but I own the building free and clear, knock on wood. I’m not ready for that lack of relevance. I love what I do. I enjoy filling prescriptions. A lot of people like coming down here but it’s a challenge; millennials don’t come in, they go online. I get it, but, so far, I’m hoping ... and people ask, ‘You’re at certain age, can you do something else?’”
Asked, “You’re struggling but you’re going to keep at it?” Jones replied, “I’m not ready to throw the towel in.
“If I felt like most 69-year-old guys are supposed feel, I might, but I feel like a kid inside,” Jones said. “I feel fabulous.
“I live down the street and I’m enthused to come here every day, I love it every day, being an optician. In almost two years, it’ll be 40 years. But I feel like a kid. I get around on my elliptical bike, and I did the Boston Marathon; that started right here, going up and down the (Second Street) steps.
“When I got here in 1998, I was stressed out in LA, and I embraced the whole nature thing, got active, and that took me to Boston” 10 years ago, Jones said, “I qualified a second time, but my doctor talked me into not running, and the strange thing is it was the year (2013) they had the bombing, I didn’t go and right in my time area — when I was due to come in — was when the explosion started. It was kind of odd. I’d run 12 marathons, and it was time.”
Jones has found other ways to find his way through the pandemic. He’s grasped his sense of Eye Am.
“I just restored every nut and bolt under a 2000 Chevy truck,” he said. “I can brag about having a delivery truck for eye glasses,” he said, pointing to the magnetic sign on the side of the truck. “I carry my sleds in the winter — I like to go up to Gifford Pinchot on the roads with my snowmobiles, they’re sleds to us.
“This COVID, at first it was the most miserable of times, and it still is but I built a deck out in front of the house out of a bunch of used wood I’d traded a person for a pair of eye glasses three years ago,” Jones said.
“All of a sudden, it was, ‘Okay, what else am I gonna do?’ I go out every morning, I’ve got the bridge and water view back.
“You just can’t weaken. You gotta keep going, keep enthused. There’s more sand in the hourglass at the bottom than there is at the top. I just buried a brother two months ago who was two years older than me. You have to pay a little attention. Not to be that extreme about everything, but at some point you can’t be reckless to your diet, inebriation, all that stuff. You gotta have it going.”