Running With The Baptists

Spring Break Circa 1980

The rickety bus was blue(ish) and had (Something) Heights Baptist Church painted on the side. It was Spring Break 1980 and I was a young teenager. My single father, a non-church member, had awkwardly attended the mandatory parent meeting and I had awkwardly attended Sunday school classes with neighbor church members in the previous weeks. Now the rest of the youth group and I were on our way to Six Flags Over Georgia for three days of fun and fellowship.

This trip was memorable to me in many ways. My divorced parents quit attending church after their split and I grew up with only sporadic religious experiences depending on which friend or family member I was with at the moment. It was enough to leave me craving a church family and I found this (Something) Heights Baptist Church one to be just peachy-keen. I liked my two neighbor girl friends and the smattering of school acquaintances in the group. We planned, packed and shopped for this trip as if we were to be gone for months. My inactive Baptist father must have perceived the whole thing as sort of an opportunity for redemption because I got twice the recommended amount of spending money. (Baptists are right up there with Catholics in the guilt department.) And most memorable of all, it was my first introduction to the rock group Van Halen.

My twelve year old son became a fan in the conventional way i.e. attending the concert with his rocker mom.

In this otherwise sweet youth group, there was a rogue clique of bad Baptist children. Two or three upperclassmen boys and their groupies staked out the back of the bus. They had brought along a cassette tape player — I don’t even think it was stereo — and blasted what is now “classic” rock music. At that time, Van Halen I and II had been released and these were played repeatedly on this five hour trip. The crowd favorite, and instantly mine, was “Running With the Devil.” Over and over this was played along with some other questionable secular music, think “Renegade” and “Highway to Hell.” In retrospect, I have to wonder: what in the hell were our Baptist chaperones, who at that time would have been of the old school variety, doing? Not ready for a full conversion to Bible friendly sing alongs with the front of the bus crowd, I sat in the middle, which was close enough to partake in the intoxicating music thumping in the back, yet far enough away to disassociate with its venue.

On the return trip, our last stop was a shopping mall. Having been padded with plenty of cash, I sought a music store and bought my own copies of Van Halen I and II. Since then, I have owned them and the subsequent albums in multiple formats. This band has provided much of the soundtrack to my high school, college and young adult years. Sometimes when I’m listening and the mood is just right, it’s spiritual. Kind of fitting, I suppose.

My attendance at (Something) Heights Baptist Church tapered off after the trip and I would go on to flit around other friends and their youth groups. I’ve forgotten most of them now but I will never forget that rickety church bus trip and the ironic way I became a Van Halen fan.