In December of 1964, I was 17, and I was sent by my Army recruiter to a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I would spend the night, then go to the AFEES building, (Armed Forces Entrance and Examining Station), to get my physical and raise my right hand and repeat after the officer as I was sworn into the army....
Woke up around 2am, could not sleep, grabbed my little bag and walked down to the AFEES station, which was, of course, closed. But across the street was an all-night diner, and the fellow inside was drinking a cup of coffee and it looked good, so I went in.
Ordered up a cup and a piece of apple pie, and saw the juke box by the door...
One of the songs on it was House Of The Rising Sun, by the Animals, and I dropped a couple quarters in and punched the buttons for it four times, I think. Then I went back to my pie and coffee.
Sat there, nursing my coffee, occasionally looking out the window, over at the AFEES building across the street, and got up and put another quarter in and hit the buttons two more times.
The guy behind the counter poured me another cup and poured one for himself, and leaned on his arms and asked, "You going over there in the morning?" I said that I was. He said that he did the same thing, years ago, and then he went to Korea. Showed me a big scar on his arm, said it was a machine gun souvenir. It looked ugly.
The song stopped, and I pulled out a buck and asked for change, and he said, "No sweat," or something like that, and went over to the juke and pulled it away from the wall, opened a back panel and did something, then closed it back up and put it back against the wall, and House Of The Rising Sun came on again, and he said he'd punched it for twenty repetitions, but if I got tired of it he's shut it down for me.
Then he went over to the grill and put three burgers on it, and asked if I liked onions, and when I said yes, he put some on the grill. He made three burgers, put two on a plate, one on another plate, put the pair in front of me, and said it was on him. He took the other plate and sat next to me and we talked about stupid stuff, not seeming to want to talk about the building across the street, although he said he knew that building like the back of his hand.
They were damn good burgers, though.
At around 5:30 I saw some military types going into the building, so I figured it was now open for business, and I asked the guy and he said that around 6am was when folks started showing up for their tests and things, so at five to six I left a five on the counter, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and walked across the street, and up the steps, and into the the beginning of five years in the Army.
What a strange and wonderful and frightening trip that would be.