Tag Archives: Belle Drive-In

Songs of the 70s: Doug and the Drive-In (conclusion)

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.

Against the Wind, Bob Seger, 1980

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?

We’ve Got Tonight, Bob Seger, 1978

“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.

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Doug C., the Belle Drive-In, and ‘Just another brick in the wall’

This is the third installment 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.

Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time

Breaking all of the rules that would bend

I began to find myself searching

Searching for shelter again and again

Against the wind

Against the Wind, Bob Seger, 1980


“Little Preach.” Doug was the only person who ever called me that. “Tell me, Little Preach,” he said, raising his voice above the hum of the ice cream machine and the low roar of the deep fryer. “How do you put up with those snooty old bitties with the tall hair?”

I walked out of the kitchen, wiping my hands. He was fascinated that I – a 16-year-old  — had been preaching off and on for about a year at my home church and a couple of country road rural churches. His disdain for “going to church” was clear. Besides, I knew exactly the type of self-righteous, holier-than-thou group of women he was talking about – they attended the other Baptist church in town, of course, but I pretended not to know.

I wanted to know what he meant by “tall hair.” Doug was all about the hair. His was just past his shoulders, a length that got him kicked out of school some years earlier. He’d even answered an altar call during a revival service and claimed he was told he’d have to cut his hair and “clean up” before he could be baptized. So he didn’t go back to school. And he never went back to church.

I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t have gone back, either.

“You know, Little Preach,” and he scooted off his stool at the counter and walked across the room on tip-toes, mimicking the gait and snooty, nose-turned-up manner of women who still wore their hair like it was the 1960s. Doug continued his impression all the way into the game room when my boss, E.J., his wife Mary, and another couple came in the back entrance.

E.J.’s good mood disappeared as quickly as Doug punched in Pink Floyd on the jukebox and broke a rack of pool balls.

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!

All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.

All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

“Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” Pink Floyd, The Wall, December 1979

The song that became an anti-apartheid anthem in South Africa (it was eventually banned there) was Doug’s personal anthem that announced his distrust of authority – teachers, the fuzz (cops), preachers (except me), “the man” (E.J.).

E.J. offered to finish up his late-night meal order. “You go ahead and mop, and lock up.”

I suppose he meant for me to tell Doug to hit the road.

Not a chance. I’d done that once before and Doug hopped over the counter.

The most unpleasant but necessary part of having the “assistant manager” title was the authority to “kick out” unruly customers – usually my friends or classmates.


“Bruce, you’re out of here. Two weeks!”

The clipboard on the wall just inside the kitchen was where E.J. and our dollar-an-hour staff kept track of who was banned, for how long and why. It seemed that most of the entries were made in my handwriting.

My buddy Stacy once de-pantsed another trouble-maker. It was hilarious, but …

“Stacy, that’s a week!”

Alan tossed a lit firecracker under a pool table. “Alan, you’re OUT!” I shouted.

He didn’t argue. “How long?”

“A month. Four weeks. And you gotta talk to E.J. before you can come back.”

I jotted down my edict on the clipboard as Alan stormed out. I cranked up the volume for one-hit wonder Larry Van Warmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most,” probably the most popular B-side song of any seven-inch LP in the history of the Drive-In.

Pssst! Little Preach.” Doug got my attention and leaned over the counter toward me. “Just heard Alan say he knows when you get off tonight. He’s bringing Bruce and Shane. They’re gonna jump you and kick your ass.”

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Doug C. and the Belle Drive-In

Countdown to Kianna

Seventeen. 18. 17. 16, 15, 14, 13 days away from the “scheduled” appearance of Kianna Allene Brown. And by “scheduled,” I mean planned, outlined and diagrammed – I’m not sure there could be more deliberate planning for a couple’s first child.

Check the Journal on Thursday when guest blogger and mom-to-be Kishia shares her heart and her own message to Kianna.

Kelly and I attended Sunday morning services yesterday with Kishia and Darnell, and when Kishia raced her hubby to our car after a powerful time of worship, I was astonished.

“What are you doing?” I asked my 8 1/2 –month pregnant daughter.

Her winded reply: “I’m tryin’ to get this baby out of here.”

Songs of the Seventies

Journal note: Mondays are dedicated to a memoir-in-progress journey back to the 70s. For the next four weeks, I’m sharing a 2,000-plus word story – in four installments – that weaves songs of the 70s and one particular 1980 hit with a look back at my encounters with Doug C. while I worked at the Belle Drive-In.

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Songs of the Seventies …

Countdown to Kianna

Twenty three, 22, 21, 20 days until I get to tell Kishia and Darnell’s beautiful newborn, “Hi, sweet Princess Kianna. I’m Grandpa.”

Memoir-in-Progress: The 70s

From June 1979 to October 1980 — from the summer after my sophomore year in high school to the fall of my senior year — I was a server and later assistant manager of the Belle Drive-In. Don’t get all excited thinking it was a movie theater (which would have been cool). It was a greasy-spoon, fast-food eatery and pinball/pool hall of sorts.

My starting wage was $1/hour. When I was promoted to assistant manager, my wage ballooned to a buck-fifty an hour.


Besides having access to all the Coke I could drink and all the nasty cheeseburgers I could eat, the only real perk was that after closing time on Sunday night, my boss, E.J. Banks, emptied the quarters out of the pinball machines and the jukebox, but left the machines open for me to play to my heart’s content.

Imagine my glee when he acquired the Drive-In’s first video game: Space Invaders.

Nothing takes me back to that time more than the music, so I offer one of my all-time favorites: “Babe” (Styx, 1979).


Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #17: Some people have wondered whether I’ll run out of messages for you. I scoff at those people. Just ask your mom or Mrs. Grandpa: There’s never a time when I have nothing to say.

See you soon!

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