Thursday, July 28, 2011

Burger Joints

Posted to OGR on 01/23/2011

Do you remember, way back in the day, before the fast food chains, we used to hang out at the local burger joint after school? The jukebox was blasting out our favorite tunes and there we would be, in our favorite booths with our friends, burgers in our hands, plates full of French-fries covered with ketchup, checking out the opposite sex. They of course were in their booths checking us out too. Those of us, who were dating, were in our own booths, drinking that cherry cola and sharing that burger and fries with our high school sweethearts. There was always a couple dancing in the isles between the booths or in a space made by pushing tables to the corner. I remember so well, the black and white checkerboard floors and the red and silver booths, chairs and tables that were the common d├ęcor of the classic burger joint. There was always a soda fountain, at the bar and the “soda jerks” took great pride in creating specialized drinks. I remember that the one near my school was the first to create the “chocolate coke” soon after “cherry colas” arrived on the scene. The old burger joint had a look and feel ---- and smell all of their own. They were our contribution to the classic American custom of sharing meals and good times with good friends.

But mostly I remember the juke boxes. There were several memorable models. One that comes to mind is the classic and colorful Wurlitzer, which usually featured bright lights in an upside down “U” and the record mechanism visible in the glass in the middle. The Model 1015 --- referred to as the "1015 bubbler" offered 24 selections is still a coveted collectable today. Who could forget the Seeburg Wall-o-Matic with its tableside extension boxes that sat in each booth; you could play your favorite tune without leaving your table. The Seeburg M100C was the jukebox used in the television sit-com Happy Days. It played up to fifty 45 rpm records and sported chrome glass tubes on the front, mirrors in the display, and rotating animation in the pilasters. Then there was the ubiquitous "Rock-Ola" whose name is actually based on that of the company founder, David Cullen Rockola. When new songs were released, they were placed in the jukeboxes at the same time they were sent to the local radio stations. So sometimes we found our new favorite tunes even before they got air play.

Later, as competition started arriving from the fast food chains, the local burger joint would partner with the top-40 radio stations, and the juke box gave way to the live local DJ spinning tunes from the small radio booth right there in the restaurant. Most of these shows were in the evening, and that brought the kids back out after dinner. Eventually events in the turbulent late ‘60s changed the culture and even the live radio DJ in the burger joints all over the country joined the jukebox in the mists of time. But I can tell you, as one of those DJs, I am still there, playing those classic 45 rpm records, taking requests and dedications with that half-eaten burger and bottle of Pepsi sitting on the shelf in front of the cart machine. Oh MY!

Copyright 2011 Rick Wrigley

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