The Norfolk Gospel Tabernacle Bus

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

It was 2AM in the morning and there you were leaning on a parking meter, half in-the-bag with a missing white hat... Your jumper pocket hanging inside out with nothing in your wallet but a faded love letter, looking like a first-grader with a 'KICK ME' sign taped to your butt. Your running mate was sitting on the curb shuffling pocket lint and mumbling something in an unknown tongue about the possibility of the reappearance of 15 Slim-Jims and two gallons of draft beer.

It was late... It was dark and morning quarters was still six hours away.

At this point, a little teenage girl would appear and invite you to an all-night soul saving of wayward naval personnel and lead you... With the Good Book in hand, to the Norfolk Gospel Tabernacle Bus, known throughout DES/SUB Piers as the 'Free ride Jesus wagon.'

If you declined the invitation, the sweet little girl would poke what looked like a folded ten dollar bill in your jumper pocket... When you unfolded it, it was only half of a printed ten dollar bill... The other half read... "Satan also deceives... But Jesus saves". The things were great to leave on the chart table in the control room to hook some unsuspecting idiot.

But if you were an E-3 seriously considering crawling down Granby Street and Hampton Boulevard on your hands and knees, the alternative looked pretty damn good.

"C'mon Stuke...let's get on the bus."

"I dunno... Whatcha say we finda bar... Shumbodys gotta be open dis time-a night..."

"We're broke Kemosabi... Flat-ass outta wampum... No dinero. Gotta git back ta the boat."


"Boat, you blind, drunk sonuvabitch... The gahdam boat... Gotta make quarters."

"You got a quarter?"

"No you idiot... Quarters... Morning muster. If you're gonna shoot your cookies, launch 'em in the street... Not on the bus."

"Bus... What bus? We gonna git onna bus? Where we goin'?"

"Lemme help you... Jeezus you look bent up."

"I look bent up? I feel tore up. Where's Jack?"

"Jack who?"

You ended up in an old former school bus with twenty or thirty other rollicking defenders of the free world. When the fishers of lost souls had harvested a bus-load, they fired up the engine and hauled you to a field so far out of Norfolk that land sold for a dime an acre.

In the middle of the field in this godforsaken corner of the planet, stood a tent... A big canvas circus tent. A tent wherein sat a couple of hundred drunken bluejackets parked on steel folding chairs swatting three pound mosquitoes and singing,

"What a friend we have in Jesus".

They unloaded and ran you through a kinda car wash sheep-dip process where a lady the size of a cement mixer gave you a cup of coffee that could float a lug nut. I have no idea what they put in that coffee but it could reverse the effect of embalming fluid. One cup and it was like somebody opened up an umbrella between your ears. Wow!!

All the lads who worked the Jesus tent wore coats and ties. Ties like your eighty-year-old granny gave you for Christmas. The girls were all flat-chested. In Norfolk it was impossible to be a religious zealot and have big tits, all at the same time.

Every thirty minutes or so, this guy, the Right Reverend Pringle of The Norfolk Mission to Redeem the Lost... Would pop up like a jack-in-the box and give you a run-down on what was going on in Hell... Sounded a lot like he'd once been billeted in T-division on the Orion.

You sang a few more songs, drank a little more coffee... Scraped the fur off the inside of your eyelids... Either accepted Jesus as your savior or smiled and said,

"Maybe next time, darlin,"

You reboarded the bus and got delivered to the pier. Hyman Rickover would have found the whole process absolutely disgusting... Unless he was drunk and dead-busted hanging onto a parking meter on Grandby Street at 2AM. Then he would have called it 'innovative alternative transportation.'

Mike Hemming had a reserved seat on the bus. The girls always used to say,

"Don't sit in that seat... Mr. Hemming should be here any minute... He's a regular... Been saved forty-two times."

None of it lasted more than the trip to Pier 22. Nobody who ever worked on a Fairbanks-Morse engine will be allowed in heaven... It's in the Bible... Book of Leroy... Chapter six… Verse nine.