The first time I remember hearing about Decatur, Alabama was when Elvis Presley played the Mobile Municipal Auditorium in Mobile, Alabama on September 14, 1970. I was a thirteen year old rabidly star-struck Elvis fan. My parents took my buddy Monty Childress and me from Pascagoula, Mississippi, where we lived then, to Mobile to see him perform. As he introduced his band, Elvis made sure to mention that Charlie Hodge, “the guy that gives me my water and scarves and sings harmony with me,” was from Decatur.
Mobile is a long way from Decatur. According to Google, it’s a distance of 337 miles and the trip takes five hours and one minute by automobile. I’ll bet many drivers shave off that “one minute,” but it’s still a long ride in a car. Despite the distance, Elvis, ever the entertainer, correctly assumed any mention of Alabama would get a good reaction from the Mobile audience. When he introduced Hodge and referred to Decatur, the crowd erupted in applause. When Elvis recalled playing the Gulf State Fair in Mobile in the 1950s, he got an even bigger response.
Fast forward forty-three years (ouch!). With my Bayou Band, I had the good fortune of performing in Charlie Hodge’s hometown at the beautiful Princess Theatre. Note to self: add “performed in the hometown of one of Elvis Presley’s band members” to resume.
Burgers fit for a king
When I learned that Elvis had eaten at C.F.Penn Hamburgers, not far from the theater, my friend and Decatur resident Dr. Randy Cross and I made it a mission to dine where burgers were served to the King of Rock and Roll.
C.F. Penn is a dandy place. In business since 1939, it is well-known to burger connoisseurs in North Alabama and beyond. Randy parked the car out front and we went in to dine where Elvis had once eaten. We ordered cheeseburgers that were ready in record time and got them and sat in a booth. We asked the waitress who said she had worked at Penn for forty years if she saw Elvis when he came in for his burger.
“He didn’t actually come in,” she said, and my heart sank. “Charlie Hodge came in and got some hamburgers to go and told us that Elvis was outside waiting for them in the car.”
Well, how were Randy and I expected to react to a revelation like that? We ate our burgers and surmised that Elvis must have at least enjoyed his Penn burger, even if he didn’t come inside to eat it. We also congratulated ourselves on the fact that we had done something Elvis did not achieve – eating inside C.F. Penn Hamburgers.
When Randy and I “left the building,” we stood in several parking places in front of the restaurant so we could say that we probably stood where Elvis might have been waiting for Charlie Hodge to bring him the burger that we assume he enjoyed.
That night during our show, I mentioned that I had been to C.F. Penn and got a big round of applause. After I returned to Nashville, Randy, who teaches at Calhoun Community College, reported to me that one of his students ate at C.F. Penn because I had mentioned
it on stage. Well, I’m not Elvis but I did actually eat inside C.F. Penn Hamburgers. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
Text and photos copyright 2013 Les Kerr.