I grew up all over America, following my Air Force father from one duty assignment to another, and I saw a lot of the country by the time I was ten. I realised very early just how diverse America was. The stuff people believed and did in New York was very different from what you’d find in Alabama or Texas.
My childhood memories are filled with trips and strange places, car accidents and bad food, and what seemed at times like an endless stream of no vacancy signs far off in the great American night of the soul. We lived in Florida, and California, and spent most summers with the grandparents in West Virginia. But of all the places we ever visited or lived in, the one I liked best was San Antonio, where we went to live (at Randolph Field) in 1957.
One of the special places I remember in San Antonio, apart from the Randolph Air Forcce Base and the Buckhorn Museum, and the Alamo, of course, was a restaurant called Earl Abel’s. By the time I arrived, it was already an Alamo City landmark, and had been since it began business in 1933 at the depth of the Great Depression. Sadly, it has since closed its famous doors to make way for a 25-story condominium. But its memory lives on.
Though it originally had several locations, in 1940 the restaurant opened at Broadway and Hildebrand. That was long before I-35, when Broadway served as the main thoroughfare into downtown San Antonio from Austin and points north.
The restaurant was started by theater organist, Earl Abel, when he couldn’t get a job involving his musical skills, and became a regular stopping place for travelers and a favorite of San Antonioans.
Mounted on the wall over the coffee counter, one saw the famous Earl Abel signs. While waiting for one of Earl Abels’ seven humorous signs, reminiscent of the now mostly forgotten Burma Shave signs that used to line highways across America. I don’t know when the signs in Earl Abel’s first went up, but they’ve been there since at least I first visited the place at the age of 9 in 1957.
Dating to when the restaurant stayed open 24-hours-a-day, one sign says:
Are Always Watching It
Back then, inflation didn’t mean much to as many people, but whoever commissioned the signs – probably founder Abel – clearly understood his macro economics as well as macaroni:
The Reason A
Dollar Won’t Do
As Much As It Once Did, Is,
People Won’t Do As Much For A Dollar
As They Once Did!
My favorite sign is the one my grandfather first pointed out to me back when I was in the sixth grade. “What does that say?” he asked with a smile. I studied the words, but couldn’t make sense of them:
Seville Dar Dago
Tousin Busses Inaro
Summit Cows In
If you haven’t figured it out, here’s the translation:
See, Willie, there they go Thousand buses in a row No, Joe, them's trucks Some with cows and Some with ducks
Whoever composed the sign misspelled “buses” with one too many “s’s,” but it continued to give me a smile every time I ate at the restaurant. Long after my Dad had washed down his last piece of coconut cream pie with a cup of coffee, I got to pull the same stunt with the sign for my daughter.
Another of the signs must have predated the creation of Weight Watchers:
Earl Abel’s doesn’t offer oysters on its menu. In fact, as one of the sign says:
It Was A Brave Man
Who Ate The First Oyster
Another of the signs certainly is well aged:
Its (sic) Tough To Pay
$1.25 For A Steak
But 50 [cent] Steaks
And then there was always the very memorable:
Eating Good Food
Keeps You Able
Keeps Earl Abel