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Hang Ten at Herbie K’s
I needed a cup of coffee or a nap on this particular Thursday afternoon when I spotted the “foodie” sign. Herbie K’s Diner in Cocoa Beach, Florida to be more specific. But a foodie is a foodie, right? And evening coffee should be just the ticket to shake me up and get me down for a nap.
It was clear on the short walk from my car to the front door of Herbie K’s that Herbie was not interested in being the owner of just another diner. He wanted to own a piece of history. And, although he was more than happy for me to stop for a cup of coffee, he was in the memories with Maltese business. I went from the current stresses of the late 1990s to the mid 1950s just by opening a door and walking through it.
There is a spotless black and white square tile floor and plenty of chrome waiting to greet you. If you brought your sweetheart and the kids, there are plenty of booths on the left.
I headed for a red padded counter stool mounted on one of those extra bases that let you spin and spin. The perfect mood music started playing from a jukebox in the back. “Yakety Yak, don’t talk again…”
There was a time when music was part of the menu. It’s still at Herbie K’s. On the back of the counter was an old friend, an additional monument to the teenage years of rock and roll. Everyone of my vintage knows that you can reach under the front of this space helmet with a mind for great music and look through the music menu pages behind the glass cover. I fumbled for a quarter to go along with my growing smile but someone beat me to it. There is only one drum opening like this. to erase Push buttons S5. The buttons are just under the glass cover and connect to the big box on the back. This was America’s first remote control. Too bad we didn’t stick with the idea of two picks for a quarter.
“Need a menu?” she asked as she stopped by me on the other side of the counter. She was dressed in white and her long hair was tied with a piece of red rag. She had a white maid’s hat pinned to the top of her hair. He name tag announced that “Bettybop” came out of the fifties to take my order. After a second or two she returned with coffee and a white cup. “Cream?”
Hamilton Beach machines owned the back counter. Two machines could make three malts each. A friendly notice is painted over the back counter, “free java for cops in uniform.” That’s probably illegal today, right?
In the corner stood a machine with a glass top full of stuffed animals and a mechanical crane hanging over the furry trophies. Young men can still test their skills and prove their love for fifty cents. Behind me was a very familiar two-tone Polaroid with the curtain door. My dad never understood why anyone would pay anything for those grotesque cartoons that fall in the outside slot after you and a few friends hit the perfect pose.
I should have been on my way but Herbie succeeded with his concept. Herbie K had my attention. It was fun to sit, watch, listen and browse the music selection in crome monument in front of me. I started digging for that quarter. Darn. Hit again. Hang on to Sloopy. Push buttons K2. I really liked that one because it reminded me of Pat Powers and The Barn Party at the fraternity house. Thirty years passed in an instant.
A couple of counter cards pushed the blue plate specials. Yes, they did have meatloaf. I wondered what else they had. Bettybop hurried by writing on her order pad as she passed.
“Could I see a menu?”
She handed me a four-page menu protected from grease or ketchup covered fingers compliments of clear vinyl protective covers sewn into black plastic edges. I’m glad I didn’t order fries. They are Murphy baskets. Order a “Murphy Basket” and you’ll get plain fries. “Jack it” and they turn into cheese fries. “Make It Whistle” and your fries come with chili. Ask for a “Crying Murphy Basket” and you’ll get half an order of fries and half an order of onion rings. Not into fries? Try “Jacked Up Elbows In The Alley”. Macaroni and cheese, of course.
If you like something healthy and light, try “Drag One Across The Farm”. It’s a nice big garden salad with lots of turkey, ham and sliced boiled eggs on top of your garden salad. “Cackle In The Garden” changes the tip to a blackened chicken.
The menu is decorated with a line drawing of old favorites. James Dean. Marilyn. Elvis. Herbie’s story is on the front cover. He owned a diner up north and went fishing on a cold February day. The only thing he caught was a cold. He loves to fish so he moved to Florida and opened Herbie K’s. Now he catches the “catch of the day” instead of a cold. Snowbird is doing good.
Yes, they have burgers to go with Cecilia from Simon and Garfunkels. Press M8. Just ask for “One Blown Up”, “One Blown Up And Jack It” gets you a cheeseburger, “One Blown Up, With Jack Benny” gets you a bacon cheeseburger, and if you want some variation of these with, you guessed it, chili , “Make It Whistle.”
“Burn A Pup” is a hot dog. “Sour It” becomes a hot dog smothered in kraut. You can also order from a variety of other popular sandwich combinations. “Jack Benny With A Dame” – grilled cheese sandwich with tomato. “Bossy On A Raft” is a steak sandwich. “Butter, Liver and Tongue” is, you guessed it, a BLT.
For those with bigger appetites, try “Throw A Bone On” which is the pork chop dinner or “Endless Italian” if you are a lover of spaghetti and meatballs. “Barbarians” is the catfish dinner, which the menu promises is a real treat.
I looked up from the dessert menu and sweets like “fish eggs” which is a tapioca pudding and “fruit with a lid” which is a pie and a song jumped right out of the portable jukebox at me. We used high-tech reel-to-reel tape recorders to record that song at every speed we could think of because we wanted to pick out the dirty words we knew it had in it. Finally I found the quarter in my pocket and plugged in the machine and punched Q7, Louie, Louie. Nothing happened.
“Excuse me, dear,” said Bettybop, when she arrived at my station with the coffee pot. “It doesn’t work.”
damn it A high-tech fail at Herbie’s just when my mind was ready to settle down for the day. I didn’t have the heart to ask if all these memories were just props.
“More coffee?” she asked.
“No thanks. I have to go be a dealer,” I told her and I paid my check and headed for the door. I turned and asked her before I left the past and opened the door back to the oppressed future.
“Is there a place that sells fifties music around here?”
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