Johnny Cash, a Mount Rushmore guy in the world of country music, knew something about writing a rock and roll song. He knew it early on, back in 1956, when he needed a song for the flip side of “I Walk the Line.” To the delight of his producer, Sam Phillips, who favored rock and roll over country, Cash walked in with “Get Rhythm,” a song in which Johnny not only showed he could rock but that he also understood the innate goodness of many people we encounter daily:
A little shoeshine boy never gets low down
But he’s got the dirtiest job in town
Bendin’ low at the peoples’ feet
On the windy corner of the dirty street
Well, I asked him while he shined my shoes
How’d he keep from gettin’ the blues
He grinned as he raised his little head
Popped a shoeshine rag and then he said
Get rhythm when you get the blues…..
Sixty years after Cash recorded “Get Rhythm,” we still witness men and women who seem to have the dirtiest jobs in town yet they persevere. They don’t let the toll and grime get them down. In fact they possess the ability to make those in better circumstances feel much better.
At a grocery store serving the Ansley Park, Piedmont Heights and Morningside neighborhoods, we meet up with three longtime employees who go beyond getting the job done. They’re the guys popping that figurative shoeshine rag, adding rhythm and smiles to the day.
I’ve run into Jerome Snow at least once a week over the last several years. Jerome’s working the store’s coolers and dairy cases, stocking whatever’s he’s just wheeled out of receiving. Jerome always has a cheerful word. We talk a little; sometimes we talk a lot longer. Having spent much of my life in and around the retail business, often I find myself observing those waiting on the customers, locating that hard-to-find item or making a recommendation. A guy like Jerome is a diamond-in-the-rough, considering that too often we see store workers who aren’t the least bit happy to see us.
(Jerome Snow, ready to help the customers and talk about Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler)
Jerome and I lamented the people who grudgingly moved through their days, with smiles and happy thoughts far off. I brought up a story I had read about George Harrison. In 1998 Harrison’s guitar hero, Carl Perkins, passed away. Perkins’ style influenced Harrison’s own playing, particularly in The Beatles’ early years. When Perkins and The Beatles finally met, it was like a reunion of lifelong friends.
Appreciating Perkins’ friendship, Harrison flew to Tennessee for Carl’s funeral service. Afterwards, a member of Barry and the Remains, a group that opened for The Beatles during one of their US tours, walked up to Harrison and thanked him for the kindness he and the other Beatles had shown them, never thinking of the vast gaps between each others’ fame and fortune. “Why not,” Harrison answered. “it’s easier than being a shit.”
Jerome enjoyed that story and recalled how nice Mark Knopfler had been to the audience at Chastain Park Amphitheatre. Knopfler related on how much he enjoyed playing Atlanta — all the way back to the early days of Dire Straits. Besides, Knopfler said, Blind Willie’s is here. That recollection led to my telling Jerome about Bob Dylan’s song, “Blind Willie McTell,” on which Knopfler played guitar. Although Dylan held it from release for nearly 15 years, it is considered one of his greatest songs ever. An epic in grand company.
During the years of the Great Depression, Blind Willie McTell himself worked at the Pig’n Whistle on Ponce de Leon Avenue, less than three miles from Jerome’s place of employment. McTell walked from car to car, dazzling the customers with his great guitar work and stirring blues vocals. The guy was the real deal; he had paid his dues. The Pig’n Whistle patrons would eat in their cars and take in McTell’s genuine blues. It was surely the best dining experience in Atlanta during the 1930s. It was good for Willie too. In Michael Gray’s Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes, In Search of Blind Willie McTell, we read of Willie’s first wife Kate McTell’s happiness of those days not far from the old Ponce de Leon ballpark.
“They’d call them car hops, you know: from one car to another, and they’d say ‘I want Willie. I want Willie next.’ And he would make. We walked away from out there during the Depression many a night with $100. That’s right. Which was marvelous….”
In those years most any job was hard to come by, much less one that might bring you $100.00 a night. McTell knew he was appreciated, not only by his fans who tipped him as he moved from car to car but also by the restaurant’s management . According to Michael Gray, the Pig’n Whistle was Willie’s “best earner and the one place he did have some sort of contract.”
These days are different. Unemployment is at a half-century low in this country. In a town like Atlanta, where the selling of goods and services is the economic driver, good workers are in great demand. Whether they’re greatly appreciated by their employers isn’t always that obvious, but those who patronize the store where Jerome Snow and his colleagues, Tremaine Berry and John Huggins work realize they are being served by attentive and caring employees.
(Tremaine Berry: a helpful guy in any corner of the store)
Jerome, Tremaine and John always have a kind word for the shoppers. John and Tremaine will guide you from one end of the store to the other to place that special item in your hands.
John Huggins covers just twenty feet or so at the front of the store, supervising the self check-out from his motorized wheel chair. John is on top of everything. He misses nothing and makes sure the shopping experience ends on a high note. He tells the shoppers to “have a blessed day.” When he says that, you feel the day will go just fine. A blessing has been bestowed.
(John Huggins chats up his customers. A blessed day is guaranteed for all)