Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I came across this old 35mm slide tonight, had to be the 70’s, of the Beacon Drive-In on the left and the big ESSO sign on the right during a winter snow (back when it used to snow in Tennessee). A flood of memories, smells, and tastes washed over me as I looked at this one. The Beacon was the last great drive-in restaurant in of the 50s, 60’s, and 70’s era in our area and when it went most of my teenage memories went with it.

The Beacon sat just on the west side of the bridge leading out of Harriman. I watched many drag races coming across that bridge, saw them whip off behind the Beacon to avoid police observance, and quietly slip into a parking bay, punch the speaker, and order a cherry coke and a cheeseburger with fries. It was a great meeting place for kids on a date, or a place to troll for one.

Hot-rodder’s ready to leave after refueling on the Beacon’s “basket specials” had a passenger jump out, knock off the “cut out pipe” caps, and hop back in as the big blocks roared to breathy life. The loud chugging and backfiring was a call to others that the game was on again. Usually, some contender took the queue, went through the same ritual, and brought their throaty beast to life – a new heat across the bridge was on! The challengers met at the side of road, looked up and down the highway, as the Beacon’s eaters froze in place, anticipating. Engines revved and strained against brakes until the coast looked clear. Then in a V-8 bellow they charged off in a cloud of blue rubber smoke. It was wonderful and the smell of burning rubber made a chilidog taste all the better!

As the engines went through synchronized gear changes, peaked RPM, and then backed off in distant popping and a halo of red taillights, the patrons resumed smacking and licking their lips. “Who won?” someone would shout.

Sometimes you could catch a fistfight further up behind the ordering bays, and inside a semi-circle of car headlights. Later, loser and winners broke up into small groups went somewhere to drink and brag.

Inside, the pinball machines beeped, clanged, whistled, popped, flashed, and chirped their wild sounds to cigarette smoking, gum chewing, and coke swigging boys bent on doubling their allowances. Many times I put my five-dollar allowance on the counter, ordered a cheeseburger and fries, a cheery coke, a pack of Winstons, and got the rest in nickels. If I hit the pinball, we all went across the street, played snooker, bought beer, and sat out back later laughing and talking about girls.

Of course if one of us did not hit, then we were left with deciding whether to walk home, or stand on the street, hanging off parking meters, hoping some body would pick us up, and ride us around. Riding around consisted of cruising up and down Roane Street, slow chugging (pretending your car had a cam) around the Beacon, and back down the main drag again.

It was this circle of life, the summer we graduated, that got to us. “Man! We have got to get out of this place guys. We’ll die here if we go around this damn Beacon one more time.”

So off we went the next day and three of us joined the Air Force on the “buddy system.” After basic training, I have only seen those guys once in forty-two years!

Ironically, I thought I would die if I circled the Beacon for the rest of my life – not knowing that I would be going to Vietnam where dying was a very real possibility. Stupid kids!

Someone, somewhere out there in America tonight is having that same thought. They do not know when they have it made. They spend most of their time wishing their lives away.

How I wish I could circle the old Beacon one more time or taste that wonderful cherry coke and cheeseburger combination – wearing that younger man’s shoes, but feeding this older man’s face.


K said...

Looks like that outside my window now... The snow I mean.

Fathairybastard said...

Another damn good post. You really need to gather this shit up and publish it, seriously.

Dude, when I was young I used to look up at planes flying over our house in Ft. Worth that were headed for D-FW airport, and wonder who was on the plane and where they were going. It seemed that everyone had a more interesting life and more promising future than I had back then. I think all kids have a lust to go somewhere else and do interesting or great things. After four years of flying around the world though, teaching on Navy ships in the first half of the 1990s, I noticed that when I sat in the folks back yard and saw those planes, my feelings about them had changed. I would think things like "You poor sweaty bastards. How long have you been on that thing? I wonder if they lost your bags?" I've never felt a longing for the life that kid had, but I do have fantasies from time to time about going back there with the knowledge that I have now. LOTS of things would have been different. Dad has a saying thought that he likes to use... "Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first." I guess you learn in time to appreciate some of the things you had back in the day, from distance, and you may long to return to those times, but not to be that young and stupid again. I guess it's about getting old(er).

bozette said...

Oh yes it brings back memories of the pld A&w we had. Yes I am old enough to remember them.LOL
Great Post. They Had the best burgers in town. It was the place we hung out with the friends.
Thank You for bringing the memories back.

Jose said...

Memories of my teen age years just came flying over my head. I grew up cruisin', from Whittier Blvd to Hollywood to Huntington Park to Van Nuys and then the races over at Elyssian Park. Life was simpler and funner then, I see my own kids now and compare and somehow I keep thinking they are missing on so much. They may not agree with me but I think so.

Becky said...

No question that I felt a difference when I moved back to Hawaii in 2002 after leaving in 1992 for college. Although I enjoyed being around my old friends again, there was definitely a huge difference between those that stayed behind, continuing to circle the Beacon.

Mel said...

Loved this post, I sometimes long for the good old days but only if they had computers LOL

jan said...

This brought back a lot of bittersweet memories of "molding" at the local teenage hangout. Of not really knowing what we had until it was gone. Of youth being completely wasted on the young.

Bruno said...

Ran across your site, quite by accident! Am enjoyin' the hell outta it! I grew-up in the same little town, only mine was in southeast Missouri. And I, too, ended up in 'Nam, 'cept I was in 3rd Marines. And, I am STILL in that little hole-in-the-road that I couldn't find my way out of, back in "those days!" Thanks for the "memory jog!"

Mr. Fabulous said...

Dude, there's a better life for me and you :)

phlegmfatale said...

You know, I've often thought that too - that somewhere some kid is wishing away the good old days of their life - and I suppose it was ever thus and always will be. It's an amazing thing, and in some ways such a solitary journey as we make our way, dragging along the faded photographs that don't quite jive with the ultra-vivid memories in the mind's eye.