When I was in my mid-youth crisis, Burma Shave signs on America’s roads were as common and comfortable as old shoes. Whenever a new one cropped up, we repeated its rhyming couplets over and over from bar stools to pulpits.
For you younguns, Burma Shave signs were little poems obligingly spaced line by line along highways so they could be read aloud as you whizzed by at 50 miles an hour, the speed limit in those good old Depression days. Burma Shave signs were everywhere, and most often they had nasty things to say about bad drivers, such as:
•“A man who drives — when he is drunk — should haul his coffin — in his trunk.”
Of course, the fifth little sign in the series always said, “Burma Shave.”
•“Spring has sprung — the grass has riz — where last year’s — drunken driver is.”
•“Don’t lose your head — to gain a minute — you need your head — your brains are in it.”
•“Drove too long — driver snoozing — what happened next — is not amusing.”
•“Brother speeders — let’s rehearse — all together — Good morning, nurse.”
•“Cautious rider — to her reckless dear — let’s have less bull — and lots more steer.”
•“The midnight ride — of Paul for beer — led to a warmer —hemisphere.”
•“Passing cars — when you can’t see — will get you a glimpse — of eternity.”
•“A guy who drives — a car wide open — isn’t thinkin’ — he’s hopin’.”
•“At intersections — look each way — a harp sounds nice — but it’s hard to play.”
•“Passing school zone — take it slow — let our little shavers — grow.”
But once in a while, a Burma Shave sign had nothing to do with drivers but stuck in your mind as one of the great lyrical verses in the English language, such as:
•“Peanut on a railroad track — heart all aflutter — round the bend came No. l0 — toot, toot peanut butter.”
Ah, those were the days, back before we needed a list of five phone numbers to reach someone, back before we used a cell phone to announce we were home.
Nowadays you won’t find Burma Shave signs no matter how hard you look, because they’ve been replaced by modern amenities like television, the Interstate, and the Information Highway. We’re driving too fast anyway to read those little red signs, and we’re so involved with the Internet that if our friends don’t have e-mail, we lose touch.
But some of us still recall those lovable Burma Shave signs. They remind us of a time when we went to a store and used real money to buy things, and we heard dirty jokes over morning coffee breaks instead of reading them on the Internet. It all came too fast.
Is it any wonder some of us geezers get confused and enter our computer passwords on our microwaves? The modern world didn’t creep up on us; it suddenly reared up and engulfed us in a series of Tsunamis from Honda Motors and Bill Gates. Second day deliveries were abruptly declared painfully slow, dining room tables became computer offices, and Post-It Notes were lauded as the highest level of management style.
It didn’t stop there. We suddenly needed extra phone lines to get phone calls, and we went online in the morning before drinking our first cup of coffee. We even began checking our e-mail before going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and when we disconnected from the Internet, we got an awful feeling that we’d just pulled the plug on a loved one.
But while I’m sitting here thinking about bygone Burma Shave signs and how nice it is that baldness isn’t painful, I have to admit that age hasn’t brought me a lot of wisdom. Age came along all by itself, and about the only new thing I’ve learned is I’m not interested in health foods anymore. At this stage I’m more interested in preservatives.
Which reminds me of the time my grandson asked me if I still looked at girls, and I said I certainly did. But the mystery was, I couldn’t remember why. Burma Shave.