Ray Charles and the Sumiton Drive-In

When I heard the news about the death of Ray Charles, the first thing that came to my mind is the Sumiton Drive In. You might ask what in the world Ray Charles had to do with the drive in, but it was the most memorable thing about the drive in to me. You see they had an album by Ray that they played before every show and during intermissions. The songs I remember are: Hit the Road Jack, Born to Lose, I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, What a Wonderful World, and of course You Don’t Know Me.

I guess those songs are etched somewhere deep in my psyche and they launch me back in time, sitting in the back seat of my dad’s 1957 Buick. The smell of hot buttered popcorn and those grainy movies dancing across that big ol’ screen will always be with me.

I remember seeing Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road…actually we must have seen that movie 10 times because is was my dad’s favorite. We saw “Ten Thousand Maniacs”, and the most racy one “The Interns”. I guess taking me

to this one was his way of breaking the news about the Birds and the Bees because it showed nurses in their BRA’s. My eyes must have gotten as big as saucers. Dad didn’t say a lot, but I distinctly remember him saying, “don’t tell your mother.”

I do recall that we got there late and we had to park near the rear and I can remember hearing people giggling and carrying on behind us on the back row and it occurred to me that they were not paying much attention to the movie. It wasn’t until later that I figured out why.

I went down to Sonic recently and noticed that the property on which the drive in sat is now Andrew Dollar’s Body Shop, Adventure Travel and several other businesses. When I went online to do a little research on drive in’s, I found what I had suspected; that most drive in’s have gone the way of the vinyl records. They are not extinct, but only the ones who understand their true value hold on to them.

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