I needed a cup of coffee or a nap this particular Thursday afternoon when I spotted the “dinner” sign. Herbie K’s Diner in Cocoa Beach, Florida, to be more precise. But dinner is dinner, right? And dinner coffee should be just the ticket to give me a shake and allow me to take a nap.
It was clear on the short walk from my car to Herbie K’s front door that Herbie was not interested in owning another restaurant. He wanted to own a piece of history. And, while he was more than happy that I stopped for a cup of coffee, he was remembered with a malt business. I went from the current stress of the late 1990s to the mid 1950s just by opening a door and walking through it.
There is crisp black and white checkerboard tiling and lots of chrome awaits you. If you brought your darling and the kids there are plenty of kiosks on the left.
I walked over to a red upholstered counter stool mounted on one of those chrome bases that let you twist and turn. The perfect background music blasts from a jukebox in the back. “Yakety Yak, don’t answer …”
There was a time when music was part of the menu. It’s still at Herbie K. An old friend had climbed to the back of the counter, a chrome monument to rock and roll teenage years. Everyone back home knows that you can reach under the front of this space headset with a mind for good music and browse the pages of the music menu behind the glass cover. I searched for a quarter of a time to accompany my growing smile, but someone beat me. There is only one drum opening like this. Annihilate. Push buttons S5. The buttons are just below the glass cover and connect to the large jukebox on the back. It was the first American remote control. Too bad we didn’t stick to the idea of two choices for a quarter.
“Need a menu?” she asked, stopping at my house across the counter. She was dressed in white and her long hair was tied back with a piece of red chiffon. She had a white waitress hat pinned to the top of her hair. He announced that “Bettybop” had come out of the 50s to take my order. In a second or two, she was back with a pot of coffee and a white mug. “Cream?”
The Hamilton Beach machines had the back counter. Two machines could make three malts each. A friendly note is painted above the back counter, “free java for cops in uniform”. It’s probably illegal today, isn’t it?
In the corner stood a machine with a glass tray filled with small stuffed animals and a mechanical crane suspended above the furry trophies. Young men can still test their skills and prove their love for fifty cents. Behind me was a two-ton Polaroid very familiar with the curtain door. My dad never understood why anyone would pay anything for those grotesque little comics that fall into the outer crack after you and a few friends strike the perfect pose.
I should have been on my way but Herbie succeeded with her concept. Herbie K caught my eye. It was fun to sit, watch, listen to and flip through the selection of music in the Crome monument in front of me. I started digging for this quarter. Damn. Beat again. Hold on to Sloopy. Push buttons K2. I liked this one a lot because it reminded me of Pat Powers and The Barn Party at the Brotherhood House. Thirty years passed in an instant.
A couple of counter cards pushed the specials off the blue plate. Yes, they had meatloaf. I wondered what else they had. Bettybop was speeding up, writing down her order book as she passed.
“May I see a menu?”
“Of course my darling.”
She handed me a four-page menu protected from grease or ketsup-covered fingers compliments of clear vinyl protective covers sewn into black plastic edging. Glad I didn’t order fries. These are Murphy baskets. Order a “Murphy Basket” and you will get plain fries. “Jack it” and they become cheese fries. “Make It Whistle” and your fries are served 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 in the fries? Try “Jacked Up Elbows In The Alley”. Macaroni and cheese, of course.
If you like something healthy and light, try “Slide One Through The Farm”. It’s a nice big garden salad with lots of turkey, ham, and sliced hard-boiled eggs on top of your garden salad. “Cackle In The Garden” changes the top to blackened chicken.
The menu is adorned with line drawings of old favorites. James Dean. Marilyn. Elvis. Herbie’s story is on the cover. He owned a restaurant in the 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. Now he catches the “catch of the day” instead of a cold. Snowbird does good.
Yes, they have burgers to go with Cecilia de Simon and Garfunkels. Press M8. Just ask for “One Blown Up”, “One Blown Up And Jack It”, you get a cheese burger, “One Blown Up, With Jack Benny” you get a bacon burger, and if you want a variety of these with chili, you guessed it, “Make It Whistle”.
“Burn A Pup” is a hot dog. “Sour It” gets a hot dog smothered in the kraut. You can also order from a wide 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 a bigger appetite, try “Throw A Bone On” which is the pork chop dinner or “Endless Italian” in case you’re a spaghetti and meatball lover. “Whiskers” is the catfish dinner whose menu promises is a real treat.
I looked up from the menu of desserts and treats like “fish roe” which is tapioca pudding and “fruit with a lid” which is a pie and a song jumped from the portable jukebox to me. We used high tech tape recorders to record this song at all speeds we could think of because we wanted to distinguish dirty words that we knew it contained. Finally I found the quarter in my pocket and plugged in the machine and punched in Q7, Louie, Louie. Nothing happened.
“Sorry honey,” Bettybop said as she arrived at my station with the coffee maker. “It does not work.”
Thin. A high-tech failure at Herbie by the time my mind was ready to settle 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 become a businessman,” I told him and paid my check and walked out the door. I turned and asked him a question before leaving the past and opening the door to the future under pressure.
“Is there a place that sells 50s music here?”