We were on one of our family road trips traveling down historic Route 66 in Missouri during the ’60s. It was early evening and we were looking for a place to have dinner. In the dimming twilight, I saw a sign flash by and shouted “Weird music!”
Dad was driving and Mom was in the front seat navigating with her Rand McNally State Map of Missouri. For lunch, Mom had made ham sandwiches. Mustard only. No mayo. On Wonder Bread. I was hungry.
Mom turned with a quizzical look to the back seat where I had my nose pressed up against the window.
“What did you say, Peter?”
We were getting close to a real town in the middle of darkening Missouri. I could tell by the increasing flicker frequency of the sign posts:
“WITHIN THIS TALE
OF TOIL AND SIN
YOUR HEAD GROWS BALD
BUT NOT YOUR CHIN”
Without pulling my nose from the window, I replied to my mother, “Yeah, Mom, really! I saw it! It said ‘Zeno’s Lodge…Weird Music.”
Mom looked at Dad, who, without turning, rolled his eyes, and kept focus on the two-lane country-turning-ever-so-slightly-urban road.
“OK, Pete,” Mom said, “we’ll see,” and turned back to her navigating.
A few minutes later I saw another “Zeno’s” sign, this time with no notification of ambiance. Just style and distance: “Fine Food…2 Miles Ahead”. I started drooling.
As darkness descended, we saw the two-story “Zeno’s Motel and Steak House” sign lit up on one side only. I shouted “There it is!” from the back seat. Dad slowed down and looked at Mom at the same time. I didn’t see her response, but he calmly turned into the semi-deserted parking lot, put the car in park and turned off the engine.
“Well, we’re here,” Dad said. “Let’s see what this place is like.”
Mom and Dad ambled out of the car as I shot past them like a rocket to the main lobby.
“Where’s the weird music?” I said to the bellboy. He was also the manager.
“Sorry, son,” he replied. “What did you say?”
The manager was tall, thin and reminded me of Ichabod Crane, of whom I had recently read about in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. I hadn’t slept very well after that, but I was still looking forward to the weird music.
“You know,” I said. “The sign on the highway. It said you have ‘weird music’!”
Not one to suffer fools, I turned and dashed into the adjacent dining room and looked around. A salad bar blocked the main entryway. It was Friday night and smelled vaguely of fish sticks and pizza. I wrinkled my nose and cupped my ears.
There was music playing, but it sounded like good jazz gone bad. We used to call it “elevator music”. It was muffled and poorly executed, like someone held a pillow over the speakers on an old record player console with a Perry Como-wannabe trying to get out.
“Hey Pete!” I heard behind me. I spun around and there was Dad, still in his cardigan. Mom was standing next to him trying to find something in her purse. He crooked his finger and waggled me over. There was no threat, but he clearly wanted to say something to me.
“I solved the mystery,” Dad said. “Sit down over here, Pete.” I sat on a divan in the lobby and waited. Dad motioned the manager over and nodded at him.
Ichabod cleared his throat, his Adam’s Apple bobbing up and down like a pogo stick. He said, “Son, your father and mother walked up to the front desk just now and said they would like to inquire about having dinner here at our fine establishment. I said ‘Certainly!’ and asked how they happened upon Zeno’s Motel and Steak House. Your father explained what you saw on the roadway and admitted he, too, was curious about the ‘weird music’.”
I looked at Dad and he tipped his head back toward the manager, who continued.
“Well, as it turns out, we recently upgraded our sound system in the dining room. We used to have a juke box, but then this sales guy from Missouri Metro Records sold us on a newfangled system of automatic recordings. He installed it in less than a week. Plays all the latest hits. Automatically! And it saves so much space. And lots of my time.” He was grinning ear-to-ear.
“Wired music. Anything for our customers.”
I looked at Mom and Dad. They both shrugged. Dad said “Whaddya think, Pete?”
Without missing a beat, I turned to Ichabod and said “Ya got pepperoni?”