Back in the 1940s automobiles – like everything else – traveled at a considerably slower pace, allowing motorists ample opportunity to soak in the roadside sights.
Those sights included iconic Burma Shave signs that sprouted up along the country’s highways and byways.
The four-line couplets were printed on signs one line at a time and posted at approximately 100-yard intervals.
Travelers would read their way toward the humorous punch-line.
Nowadays as we whiz down the interstate there’s not much to read other than bland “Food Gas Lodging” signs at each exit. I was recently reminded about our literary loss by a Jean Shepard short story titled “Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss.” It’s about a long-ago family road trip, and Jean’s pop’s devotion to the signs:
“The old man cackled appreciatively. His favorite form of reading, next to the Chicago Herald-Citizen sports section, was Burma Shave signs. He could recite them like a Shakespearean scholar quoting first folios.”
Eventually the Burma Shave signs went the way of mud flaps and quarter-a-gallon gas, but I can think of several that would be appropriate for day’s travelers:
Cell phone drivers
Like to blab
But no dial tone
From graveyard slab
Or a nod to our state law allowing the salvaging of road-kill:
In the road
Means yummy meal
Scoop up a load
A reminder that on today’s high-speed highways nobody likes a slowpoke:
But she is 90
What’s your excuse
For dragging hiney?
And if that doesn’t get the message across, try this:
About the speed
Of crippled snail
Who could fail to identify with this one:
Make quiet a splat
They’re all so fat?
Back in the good old days it would have been possible to combine two fixtures of highway Americana, Burma Shave poems and See Rock City signs:
See rock city
What a sight
If dad’s too tight
Most male drivers have been here:
The road runs out
So slow down hoss
As your wife said
Your butt is lost
Or a gentle hint to today’s pudgy society:
Start a diet
Till you can see
Your missing feet
The worst thing in the world was for the fourth and final sign – the one with the punch line – to be missing. You’d recite the first three and be leaning forward with anticipation, looking for the final one, the zinger, only to be disappointed when it wasn’t there. But that allowed creative travelers to compose their own. For example:
My gal Sal
Lies on the grass
(final sign missing, use imagination)
How about this:
The poor lass
Or something along that line.
Contact Larry Woody at firstname.lastname@example.org.