Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Summer Memories

By Dennis Hinkamp

The “lunch beep” vacation was about 48 summers ago but I remember it like it was yesterday’s selfie. In the days before all cars had entertainment centers or air conditioning and nobody had a pocket computer, you had to roll down the windows and experience the blunt force of your surroundings. Maybe you played automobile bingo. Maybe you sang songs a cappella or along with radio stations that seldom lasted more than 50 miles before fading out. Maybe you just tried to notice everything around you; things were different then.

I grew up in St. Louis and for some reason we never traveled further west than Kansas City. We also never flew because “only rich people flew.” All of our vacation time was used driving to eastern historical destinations such as Gettysburg, the Liberty Bell and some lobster shack on the coast of Maine. It is only through traveling that you can comprehend how many people there are and how they seem to like wherever it is they live, no matter how dismal it may seem to you. This is a good thing.

It was on such a summertime trip to some Eastern destination that we all saw a neon sign declaring “LUNCH BEEP.” This kept my mom, father and I entertained for most the remaining miles of the trip. Whenever the conversation or the scenery lagged one of us would shout out “lunch beep!” or “I sure could go for a nice lunch beep right now.” What kind of toothless hillbillies would put up a “lunch beep” sign?

This memory slapped me on a drive from St. Louis to Memphis last week. I could have flown, but sometimes you have to see the country from six inches off the ground. Perhaps because of it, or in spite of never going west, I have become a westerner who gets easily disoriented when driving through the flat lands. Other than the times when the sun is rising or setting I can’t tell east from west when I’m driving Highway 55, with no mountains to orient me. Sure, I have my cheerfully voiced GPS phone to help out, but Highway 55 driving is like slipping through a green leafy tunnel on cruise control. Outside, the air is thick and it crushes down on you if you leave the climate control of your rental car and the calming voices of your audio books. I probably would not have noticed a “lunch beep” if it splattered on my windshield.

It was many years, and I don’t mean just a few, later that it hit me; oh, the sign really said LUNCH BEER and the right leg of the “R” had just burned out. It was typical of the era for bars and cafes to save money by just having single words such as eat, beer, lunch or food in all capital letters. None of these could have formed another word just by partially burning out right?

It makes a better memory, not knowing for sure.

Dennis Hinkamp wishes you all great summer vacation memories.

This article was originally published on August 1, 2016.