Memories of Buns©

By Jerry D. Haight

Twin golden brown buns exquisitely formed, just a touch of white around the edges, were so warm and delicate.  A sensuous mixture of smells including meat, onions, warm bread and a special sauce binding it all together tantalized his senses. The fragrances thoroughly punctuated the air heightening the anticipation of the eight year old boy who had just escaped school solely for this experience. That hamburger was the epitome of comfort food and his anticipation was excruciating as he thought about sinking his teeth into that stress relieving burger. The place was East Denver, the year 1948 and the event was lunch at The Rocky-built on Colfax.

The small white building, much longer than wide, consisted of a counter in the center that split the building lengthwise and another against the wall with hinged seats that folded back when not in use. Before sinking his teeth into the first Rocky-built, the young lad removed pink, soft, sticky Fleers from his mouth and placed it firmly underneath the counter. That seemed appropriate because the counter was home for untold bits of chewing gum covering the entire underside.

Rocky-built hamburgers were small and came covered with a golden sauce made from light mustard, relish, Heinz 57 and catsup. The sauce turned the otherwise ordinary burger into a happening. This experience reigns indelible in the resources of memory and has eluded countless attempts to replicate it throughout the ensuing years.  The familiar question following orders for the delicacy was “with or without” referring to the only option available; onions. And, perhaps best of all, a gourmet delight was only ten cents. The small Rocky-Built chain pre-existed McDonald, withered in its shadow and finally died. Or, maybe it was because someone removed the used gum.

The quest for the illusive recipe turned up several, and while none panned out, a place on Federal Blvd. alleged they specialized in the original Rocky-built hamburger. This information was hidden in memory for future reference. . Just in case we might be in Denver sometime in the future. That time came on a hot summer day in July as we were having a mini family reunion. The subject of Rocky-builts came up and our son Vince decided the time had come to finally try one of those noteworthy burgers, the subject of so many past conversations.  He was a hefty young man with intimidating features that include two hundred sixty pounds on a six-four frame and a demeanor that dissuades trouble. That was a good thing for what happened next.

The area, including 29th & Federal Blvd. was never Beverly Hills, but has an international flair nevertheless. It is the melting pot of the Mexican, Italian and Vietnamese Mafia along with other gangs like the Crips and Bloods.  It is so rough that taxis won’t come to pick up passengers and will only drop off passengers while still in motion. The parking lot next to what turned out to be a bar was nearly half full of cars, ours was about the newest. There were also about forty of the toughest creatures I had ever seen.  They appeared to salivate over the buffet of cars in the lot and particularly ours.  I was glad Vince was with me, but began to wonder about either of our wisdom. We decided as long as we were there, we might as well complete our mission. So we left the car to go into the bar and as we did so, I pressed the remote button on my key fob to lock it. I don’t know why I bothered because any one there could probably strip our car right down to the beep in a matter of seconds, locked or not.   

Before we entered the bar, we had to pass by one of the creatures I mentally named Jack. Jack wore cowboy boots, black leathers around his long lanky legs and a black shirt with what looked like a knife slit in the side about where his kidneys would be. Jack was reclined on the seat of his chopper with his feet across the handlebars. His butt rested on the seat while his back laid on the rumble seat with his head leaned against the back rest. His scowl and furrowed brow distorted his face almost obscuring the two scars on his cheeks and small curled matted mustache sorely in need of attention. He wore the rattiest pony tail imaginable.  Even through his scowl, one could see the yellow of his remnant teeth, the survivors of his many encounters. Jack picked at them with a long bayonet and broke into a slight grin as he sized us up. I felt like lunch; his.  

As we went inside, taking several moments for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, we met a waitress whom I mentally named Alice.  Alice was of few words as she simply asked, “What do you want?”, Just then, I noticed a huge chunk of meat standing in the corner about thirty feet away. It had two log-like legs, a barrel chest, two earrings in each ear, a bald head and a tee shirt with XXX on the front in big letters. I figured that indicated the size of the shirt. I named him Ralph. I am pretty sure he was the bouncer because his gnarled fists bore lots of teeth marks. Ralph wore a big chain around his waist that I am sure was once wrapped twice around a big log in a forest somewhere. As Ralph made a half step toward us, Alice stopped him when she said “not now” or was it “not yet ” I am not sure. But at any rate, Ralph went back to his position.

When we told Alice we were there for two sacks of Rocky-Builts, she lightened up just a bit as she hollered our order to the cook. Then she handed us the menu and very slowly asked the Rocky-built question “with or without?”. I thought she meant onions until I looked at the menu; there were two prices for just about everything. One price included protection and the other (lower) was without.  I looked at Ralph, who now had a slight smile on his face as he fondled his chain. I looked at Alice, thought about our virgin Honda, defenseless in the parking lot, then at the menu and responded “with, of course”.

We left the bar with our precious Rocky-builts, our Honda still a virgin and our skins intact. As it turned out, the hamburgers were cold, without onions, very ordinary and nothing like any Rocky-builts I remembered. Alas, sometimes a hamburger is just a hamburger and a memory just a memory. It really doesn’t matter though; I will always cherish those Rocky-builts of old.