Homage Paid to Mr. Jim, and Jackson's Airport Drive-In Restaurant
I am flying solo with this piece, my friends. I challenged myself to write this hub entirely from my own memories that I recall about my own real teenage hang-out that acted like a restaurant: Jackson's Airport Drive-in, Hamilton, Ala.
The reason that I know so much about this place, and this is not boasting, is because my friends and I stayed here so much that the owner, (a) now-late, Mr. Jim Jackson, threatened to hire us for his employees. One time he threatened to charge us rent for parking out cars so close in proximity on his property. His excuse was that his customers were getting upset at us just hanging out. The thing was: "We" were the customers.
Note: the photos on this piece are NOT meant to show you the actual restaurant. Jackson's Airport Drive-in Restaurant has long since been torn down and a seasonal produce stands where this business once stood. Sad. Very sad.
Jacson's Airport Drive-in Restaurant
like a million other drive-in restaurants in our land at one time dominated every square inch available for teenagers who had just gotten their driver's license and wanted to take their girlfriends to one of these hang-out's (said with no slang.)
Our restaurant was more than a restaurant. It was an area icon and not located on any business card given by any salesmen. A passing traveler who was heading through our hometown, Hamilton, Ala., might ask, "got any good places to eat?" Then we'd nod. Then reply, "yep. Jackson's," and the odds of them, even being strangers, knowing about Jackson's were excellent. Almost every person who ate fast food, knew about Jackson's Airport Drive-in. Mr. Jim, as we called him, knew a good thing when he build the place which was strategically-located at the end of an asphalt service road that led to the Marion County Airport. This place too was historical. It was said that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz when looking for a quick, legal divorce, flew into this airport and a good hearted ol' boy who just happened to be at the airport was given a hundred bucks just to drive the famous duo to the Marion County Court House that sits in the middle of Hamilton. And in that court house is where unhappy married couples went to get a swift divorce from our probate judge.
So you see, Jackson's popularity was really infectious. When Mr. Jim started out in his business, the Marion County Airport was put on the map by Lucy and Desi, allegedly and our own court house found instant fame when the most famous redhead and her Cuban husband walked into the Probate Judge's office and said in no wasted words, "We'd like to be divorced." And so it was done. Again, allegedly. After word of the Arnaz' whirlwind tour of our court house got out, there was talk by a few locals that James Arness had been spotted walking out of that court house for who knows what, but we discounted these yakkers. You know how gossips can get a good tale started.
If you Wanted
fast food, you went to Jackson's. You could say that this drive-in restaurant's food selections were delicious more than fast, but at any given time during business hours, you could always find us, the teenage crowd sitting in our cars and talking about dating, drinking and women. Not especially in that order. But Mr. Jackson, although sometimes tempermental, did make money. The older people would walk inside his drive-thru restaurant and be served just like a fancy restaurant you see in some uptown locale.
I can attest to the fact that I have eaten a lot of the food that Mr. Jim cooked off of his grease-laden grill, but we didn't let a few Health Dept. penalties stop us from munching down those huge cheeseburgers and crunchy onion rings. And the fries, well friends. To get a better plate of French fries you would have to grow your own potatoes.
A 16-year-old kid, me, could take a five-dollar bill, order a burger, fries, and a Coke for only one dollar and eighty-five cents. This was in 1971. Things were not that high in our town. Jackson's was the number one teenage hang-out for guys who dated girls, but didn't want to break the bank to feed their dates. And besides, while one of the sweet waitresses, "Dot," or "Margie," who you spoke through a small window, would signal you for your order being ready--while the girls who were there on dates would compare dress sizes, hairstyles and if their dates would go all the way tonight. This was not profane, but it was the truth.
All of this piece has been of a happy, light-hearted tone, but there was one sad area about Jackson's Airport Drive-in Restaurant: Mr. Jim Jackson always stooped while he cooked at this restaurant. When the years and prices escalated, Jackson sold out and bought out another iconic eatery: McCracken's, located in Weston, a small suburb of Hamilton. But Mr. Jim still stooped at his grill in his new place and he told me one time (before he passed away) that his back would not let him stand up straight for the massive arthritis that he had contracted in his backbone and from the years of stooping while cooking.
On Most Week Nights
as well as on weekends, there we'd be sitting in our parked cars with doors open and our mouths running a hundred miles an hour. And on holiday nights such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mr. Jackson would close early around 11 p.m. as opposed to 1 a.m. so we could shoot the breeze and shoot down the character of our friends who we did not like--mostly the uppity elite guys and girls. They seldom showed their entitled faces at Jackson's. And speaking my best "Forrest Gump,": "that's one less thing," that we had to contend with.
But as we grew older and dating became more and more going out with the same girl at different times, we all, one by one, either graduated high school, went to the Vietnam War, to work, or married. Then like some dark cloaked demon with a magic stick waving that weapon at us, we saw our own gangs dissolve and start that long, burdensome road to adulthood.
Ever so often, some of us would see each other with the wives in some local grocery store and one of us would say, "anybody wanna go to Jackson's?" And like Jack rabbits in Arizona, we shoved the groceries into the backseat and headed to "our place," just to see if we might reclaim a part of our teenage innocence that we let slip away.
Then again, one by one, we stopped going to Jackson's completely. When one of us would manage to ask if we wanted to head down to Jackson's, someone would always say, "and deal with those young punks? No, sir."
So Jackson's and other million or so drive-through restaurants lived good one day and then vanished leaving only vacant buildings.
But they left something that could not be destroyed: The memories that we all helped to build while hanging-out with Mr. Jim. May you rest in peace.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery