Entertaining signs along side of the road

Published 12:54 am Saturday, July 16, 2016

When my granddaughter arrived unexpectedly as a birthday surprise for her mother and suggested a spur of the moment trip to the beach for the three of us, it set me thinking about vacation trips to Florida with my parents and my cousin Betty Joyce. One of the ways she and I found amusement on those long, hot drives in a car without air-conditioning was watching out for Burma Shave signs that popped up along the roadside.

The beginning usually started with one word. Then we stretched our necks on the lookout for the next. It was usually about 100 paces from the first. For example, one of the first signs I remember began with the word “Grandpa’s,” followed by “Out with.” Several seconds later at a cruise speed of maybe 35 miles per hour, the next one jumped out at us: “Junior’s date.” Three more followed accordingly. Betty and I read them in unison: “Old Technique”-“With Brand New Bait”-“Burma Shave.” We loved it. Those signs kept us on the alert, watching for the next ones.

Some miles down the road, the beginning of another appeared. We got all excited and sat on the edge of our seats anticipating the rest. We read every word: “A Man”-“A Miss”-“A Car”-“A Curve”-“He Kissed the Miss”-“And Missed the Curve.” Betty and I roared with laughter at that one. We were adolescents fascinated by romance. It was cute and a bit of a tongue twister. We had nothing else to do in a car rolling down the highway, so we tried to learn it. We chanted it once. Then again. And again, many times, too many times, stumbling over the words. Suddenly our efforts turned into a fit of giggles. Uh oh. By that time, Mother had all she could take. She issued an ultimatum: ”That’s it. No more about the man and the miss,” she said. We looked at each other and just couldn’t stop giggling for a minute or two. We hushed, but the jingle stuck in our minds for a long time.

I cannot think of anything that could be termed any more a piece of Americana than those Burma Shave signs appearing in my growing up years. I mentioned them to my daughter who said she had never seen one. I am sorry the younger generation never had the privilege of reading one, anticipating the next, and laughing over the punch line that came before the words, “Burma Shave.”

Some signs were corny, some even a bit irreverent. Some gouged other shaving crème companies by urging the consumer to never accept a substitute. However, unlike advertising today, names of the competing products were never used.

There were numerous Burma Shave signs admonishing motorists to drive safely. Next to “A man, a miss,” my favorite was also one of those. It read “At school zones”-“heed instructions”- “protect our little-“ “tax deductions.”

No doubt about it, Burma Shave signs livened up trips for bored travelers like Betty and me.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.