This is the conclusion of a four-part story that weaves songs of the 70s and early 1980 with a look back at my job as assistant manager of the Belle Drive-In from June 1979 to October 1980. One of the more colorful characters was Doug, a troubled drug/alcohol abuser whose singing voice perfectly mimicked Bob Seger.
“Whatever compelled me to work in a place as filthy, vile and dangerous as the Drive-In, I will never know. Well, yes I will. I do. It is called ‘money.’ A buck an hour … Some say I’m a narc – here only to report on drug transactions and other crime. I suppose my taking notes like this doesn’t relieve suspicions, either …”
Personal journal of Jodie E. Jackson Jr., Feb. 17, 1980
Streets lights illuminated the buckled sidewalk that ran south along Johnson Street. The stately oaks and elms that also lined the street offered hiding spots and shadows from which to leap to surprise – or whip ‑ a guy who couldn’t wait to get home to shower and scrub the French fry grease off his skin and out of his hair.
I’d never been “jumped” on the way home from work, but I surveyed the parking lot with keen interest that night, heeding Doug’s warning that Alan and his buddies ‑ buddies of mine until I put them on the Drive-In’s “kicked out” list – were going to beat me up somewhere along the 1,000 feet between the Drive-In and my house.
The coast was clear, except for the tell-tale orange glow in the street-side shadow at the corner of the parking lot. The slow, deep draws that made the orange dot burn hot was the clincher. I knew who smoked his cigarettes like that.
When I walked past, strutting with confidence, I pretended not to see Doug watching from the shadows, watching to make sure there’d be no “getting jumped” that night.
Well those drifter’s days are past me now
I’ve got some much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out
Against the wind
I’m still runnin’ against the wind
I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind
Well I’m older now and still runnin’
Against the wind.
E.J., my boss, finished the late-night meal with his wife, Mary, and the couple that came with them to polish off what was left of the potato salad and coleslaw. E.J. stayed behind to total the register receipts, collect the cash from the register, and then made the rounds through the rec room, emptying quarters from the pool tables, pinball machines and the jukebox.
Perhaps as a special “thanks” for my meal preparation or for me working for a dollar-fifty an hour, E.J. sometimes left the pinball machines and jukebox open, giving me a chance to play and listen to music at no cost into the wee hours of the morning.
But guests weren’t allowed and it was time for Doug to go. He sang along to another raspy, soulful Bob Seger hit as I began mopping the floor in the rec room.
Deep in my soul, I’ve been so lonely
All of my hopes, fading away
I’ve longed for love, like everyone else does
I know I’ll keep searching, even after today
So there it is girl, I’ve said it all now
And here we are babe, what do you say?
We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?
We’ve got tonight babe Why don’t you stay?
“Everything okay here?” E.J. asked on his way out the door. He turned toward Doug. “You know it’s closing time?” He looked at me. “You know it’s closing time.” He wasn’t asking.
“Doug’s on his way out,” I assured E.J. as he left. What I really wanted to say was that the place would have been dark and closed down two hours ago if not for a telephone order for four chicken dinners at 8:59.
I continued to mop, wondering if Doug was really going to leave. When the jukebox was finally silent, Doug hollered from the booth where he was sitting in the dining area.
“Little Preach, maybe you could have church here sometime?”
I kept mopping and hollered back, “Would you come?”
“Already here, Little Preach.”
He had a point. This was where he was comfortable.
“You could lead the choir,” I said, scooting the dirty mop bucket to the far end of the rec room.
“Hell yeah!” Doug shouted. “How’s this?”
The next thing I knew, the voice of Bob Seger was crooning Doug’s version of “Jesus Loves Me.”
“Jesus loves me, this I know.” The first and fourth words were more spoken than sung. He let the words hang in the air.
I stopped cleaning and leaned the mop against a pool table.
“For the Bible says it’s so.”
Thinking back to that wonderful, impromptu rendition, I wondered about the snooty, tall-haired women who’d told Doug he’d have to get cleaned up and wash his hair before he could be baptized. Those old snoots would have objected to his song on so many grounds – it’s “tells me so,” not “says it’s so” ‑ and probably would have insisted that, in fact, Jesus does NOT love those who sing that song a la Bob Seger.
“Little ones to him belong … When they’re weak … he is strong.”
I could only hear – couldn’t see Doug sing – from my position in the rec room, but I realized I couldn’t move. It wasn’t just the voice, but what was behind the voice that was so mesmerizing.
And why were my cheeks wet? Was I crying?
“Yes, Jesus loves me,” Doug continued. “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. My Bible … says … it’s … so.”
Silence consumed the air. When I’d regained my composure, I returned to the dining area, not sure whether to hug Doug or applaud. But he was gone.
I glanced out the window and followed the path of a glowing, orange dot that disappeared into the night.