By Joe Hobby
I recently went to see singer Jackson Browne perform at the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham, and a curious thing happened. After the first song, he looked around and said, “I remember this theatre. What a nice place to play music.” It’s a nice place to do most anything. It’s old, it’s ornate, it’s beautiful. And like a lot of people, going to the Alabama brings back a wheelbarrow full of personal memories. As I looked around, the time seemed to melt away.
I came here as a kid. My big sister frequently brought me downtown to catch a Saturday matinee. I’ve performed standup comedy on this stage in front of a packed audience.
However, for me, there is one Alabama Theatre memory that burns brighter than the neon marquee out front. The Alabama was the site of my first date. (Incredibly, I looked everywhere inside the theatre and didn’t see a plaque marking the occasion.) While many of the details have faded like an old pair of jeans, others I recall quite clearly.
I didn’t start dating until my junior year of high school because I was a year younger than my classmates. I waited because I wanted to be a driver before I took on such a serious social undertaking. Once I passed the test, it was time. But who to ask out? Denise was the perfect choice. I liked her. We had some friendly banter in the hallways, and there seemed to be good chemistry between us. But, this was a date! What if she rejected me? Worse, what if she said, “I’ve got plans, but thanks for calling me.” To an insecure teenager, an answer like that creates a lot more questions. Does she already have another date? Does “thanks for calling”, mean call me another time? If so, how long do I wait? Should I ask her out again? When? Oh, the things we had to navigate when we entered the world of high school dating.
I finally conjured up the courage to make The Call, and Denise seemed glad to talk with me.
When she said yes, my heart almost jumped out of my chest. Saturday was going to be D Day, that is, date day.
Now the planning began. The first order of business was to procure transportation. I called my big sister, and she agreed to let me borrow her nearly new 1970 Barracuda. I didn’t even have to beg. Soon, my mom and sis saw the advantage of allowing me to date in their cars. The vehicle would get a complete detailing before I used it. This was one of the pre-date rituals high school boys of that era practiced. The car would be washed, waxed, and thoroughly vacuumed before the big event. We are talking showroom clean. I did everything but change the transmission fluid. If I had dates on two consecutive weekends, the car got waxed twice. It was over the top, but most guys did it.
Of course, since this is me, you can be sure there was going to be some kind of complication. On Friday, Denise told me that she had done something to get on the wrong side of her parents, and her Saturday curfew was cut back to 9:30. She was so embarrassed by this turn of events that she offered to reschedule.
No way. Instead, I picked her up at 5:00, and we headed for the earliest feature I could find – which happened to be Patton playing at the Alabama. A war flick was probably not a great choice for a first date, but honestly, time was the key factor. It could’ve been a movie about how to remove ticks from a dog for all I cared. I recall how relaxed we both were. Conversation before and after the show flowed freely.
Now for the big decision. I could:
- Take her home and give her a good night kiss;
- go parking – a term we used for making out in a car for a period of time; or
- ignore my raging hormones and don’t do anything.
There was no doubt. Despite the time constraints, I chose option b. I knew of a nearby overlook where the lights of the city sparkled beautifully, and we spent the rest of the time we had doing what teenagers do – although a small car with bucket seats made it difficult to get comfortable. I would quickly learn that my mom’s giant Plymouth Fury was much more user-friendly for parking.
We both knew that 9:30 meant 9:30, not 9:31, so I made it a point to we be right on time. In between a sweet good night kiss, and reaching for the front door Denise said, “Joe, please, please don’t tell anyone that I had a 9:30 curfew.” I smiled and nodded. Nobody knew – until now. By 9:35 I was backing out the driveway, basking in the afterglow of my first date…
And as if on cue, Jackson Browne jolted me back to the present when I heard him sing these words:
“Everybody’s just waiting for the one
Who can give them the answers
And lead them back to that place in the warmth of the sun
Where sweet childhood still dances…”
Who? Tonight, it was the Alabama Theater.