Everyone in the band had either gone to his own room or passed out on the floor, except for Bruce and Clarence. Just like the old days, only this time they weren’t in some dump on the other side of the country, a momentary stop on their town-to-town hustle to push the record; this time they had the Washington Monument out one window and the Lincoln Memorial out the other. Bruce could see people already camping out on the steps. They weren’t in town to see him, he knew, and knowing that made him smile.
Clarence gently shoved Max’s head off of his lap and got to his feet. He tossed his empty beer can in the trash and opened up the mini-fridge. “Shit, Boss,” he said, wiping his eyes. “We drank more than I thought we did.”
Bruce shook his head and pointed his finger at his drooling, passed-out drummer. Clarence nodded in agreement and reached for the phone.
“What’re you doing, calling the kitchen?” Bruce asked, reaching out his hand.
“Having ‘em send up more beer,” Clarence said, holding the phone.
Bruce waved him off. “Nah, no, don’t do that.” He stood up and pulled his jacket off the arm of the sofa. “There’s a liquor store down the block. I’ll go pick us up some good stuff.” He grabbed his room key. “Anything particular you want?” he asked as he zipped up.
“All I feel like is some more beer, man,” Clarence said. “I can’t get too drunk; I gotta play the saxophone tomorrow.”
“Be back in a few,” Bruce said, and he was out the door.
He took the elevator down to the lobby. A chubby man sporting a goatee with a leather briefcase slung over his shoulder had just come in from the street. He looked familiar, but Bruce couldn’t place him. They passed each other halfway across the lobby, and the chubby man with the goatee touched Bruce on the shoulder and reached out his hand.
“Mr. Springsteen. So nice to meet you.”
Bruce accepted the handshake and suddenly recognized him. “Oh, hey. Rick Warren.”
The chubby man with the goatee smiled. “That’s me! I’d heard you were staying here, too, but I wasn’t sure our paths would cross. I’m so glad to run into you. I’m a big fan of your music!”
Bruce broke the handshake, slipped his hands into his hip pockets. “Thanks. I’m a big fan of your . . .” He flashed a polite smile. “So nice to meet you.”
They stood there a few seconds, sharing an awkward silence. Rick looked down and drummed his fingers against his briefcase. “So . . . are you . . .?”
“Awfully late for you to be getting in, isn’t it?” Bruce finally asked.
“I’m coming back from the Acquire the Fire party,” Rick said, glancing at his wristwatch. “Those guys are so much fun, you just lose track of time, I guess.”
“What’s it like, just a big Bible study or something?”
“Yeah, Bruce, ‘cause that’s all us evangelicals do, just sit around with our noses in the Bible!” Rick slapped Bruce on the shoulder. Bruce stared at where Rick’s hand had been a few seconds before looking at him again. “No, man, it’s not just Bible study. It’s a lot of fun. They put on little skits, they have music — Stryper was there tonight!”
Bruce’s eyes went wide. “Sounds awesome.”
“So where are you on your way to at this hour?”
“Out to buy booze,” Bruce said, jerking his thumb toward the door.
“Oh,” Rick said. “Great.” He opened his briefcase like he was about to look for something, then closed it a moment later and sighed. “You’re playing at the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Bruce said, nodding his head. “We’re doing a few songs there on the steps. Should be a lot of fun.”
“What’s your set like?”
Bruce shrugged. “We don’t have it all nailed down yet. Mostly old stuff, I guess.” He grinned. “Any requests?”
“‘Born to Run’?”
“Everyone says that one.”
“I guess it’s a popular tune.”
“Yeah. That one and ‘Born in the U.S.A.,’” said Bruce. “The ones starting with ‘Born’ people seem to like . . .”
Rick smiled. “Well, thank God for that, right?” he said, reaching out to pat Bruce’s shoulder again.
Again Bruce lingered on the spot where he’d been touched before saying anything else. “Yeah. So, you’ve got a front row seat for Tuesday, I guess, huh?”
Rick nodded, beaming. “Right up on stage! Should be awesome. Can’t wait.”
“You know where you’re sitting?”
“Um, I think they’ve got me right next to Joe Biden.”
Bruce rolled his eyes. “Jesus Christ.” He brushed his fingers through his hair. “I met him at a rally me and the band played for John Kerry last time around. He comes up to me afterwards and you know what he says to me? ‘You could use another guitar player.’ There’s already so many guitars on stage you can barely move, for Christ’s sake.”
“He must have just been joking around.”
“How are you supposed to tell with him? I mean, he’s nice enough, he’s a good man, but the guy has no sense of humor at all, man.”
“Well, two out of three ain’t bad,” Rick said, and took a meaningful pause.
“That’s a Meat Loaf song,” Bruce said after a few seconds.
“Are you kidding me?”
Bruce shook his head.
“What about ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’? That’s yours.”
“That’s Meat Loaf’s,” Bruce said. “You might be thinking of ‘Blinded By the Light.’”
“That one’s yours?” Rick asked. “I thought Manfred Mann did that one.”
“I beat ‘em to it.”
“Huh.” Rick thought, and shrugged. “I bet that happens all the time.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Well . . . anyway.” Rick grasped the strap of his briefcase. “I’d better get up to my room, get some sleep.”
Bruce reached out and shook Rick’s hand a second time. “Okay, Rick. I mean it, it was really nice to meet you. Good luck with your invocation Tuesday.”
“Thanks,” Rick said. “Hey, you know . . . I’m praying for you.”
Bruce cocked an eyebrow. “Am I sick?”
Rick chuckled. “No, no, not like that. I mean . . . you know, I’m praying for you and your people. To find salvation.”
“What do you mean, my people? My wife and kids? My band?”
“No, Bruce . . . your people. You know. Your tribe.”
Bruce narrowed his eyes as realization dawned on him. “Rick, I’m not Jewish.”
“. . . you’re kidding.”
“You’re serious? You’re not Jewish?”
“I went to Catholic school.” Bruce raised his hand to his mouth and cleared his throat. “Rick, truthfully — I won’t be angry with you — have you ever listened to any of my music?”
Rick looked at the floor.
Bruce clapped him on the shoulder. “No shame in it. Have fun up there Tuesday.” Bruce turned and started across the lobby.
“Hey,” Rick called to him when he was almost out the door. Bruce stopped and looked back. “‘Jesus Was an Only Son.’ I forgot about that one. That was a good one.”
“Thanks,” Bruce said. He gave a smile and a nod, and pushed out the door.
The liquor store down the block was almost picked clean. Apparently he and Clarence weren’t the only ones getting a head start on their celebrating. He picked up a case of beer for the two of them, and a jar of Georgia Moon in case Max was up when he got back.