I enjoy a great nostalgia for that feeling I had at age seventeen, going off to college and ready to both make whatever mark on the world I was going to make, and also desiring to brag to my parents about what wild, weird, wonderful things that I uncovered and experienced. So the presence of Steverino’s was a complete revelation. Not only did they serve up the biggest sandwiches I’d ever seen, they delivered them. This changed everything.
Steverino’s used to place a menu and coupons in the half-dozen free magazines where restaurants would place an ad, knowing they’d be dumped by the truckload in all the dorms. Every residents would look forward to the latest Athens Gold, TANSTAAFL, Passport and Red & Black Coupon Survival Kit, plus the others. I was going over the menus one night in my first quarter and was really interested by what Steverino’s would deliver along with your sandwich. They’d send fountain Cokes, naturally, but they also had a variety of bottled sodas. I’d heard of IBC root beer, of course; a buddy of mine’s mother once had a legendary shitfit when another friend arrived to pick him up while drinking from a bottle. “I don’t care what kind of beer it is” remains the greatest, most myopic, ass-covering retort any crazy mother ever screamed at an innocent root beer drinker. But these other sodas, I’d never heard of any of them. Vernor’s? Budwine? Buffalo Rock? I went for that one; it sounded the oddest.
Sandwiches from Steverino’s came wrapped in tin foil, the bread toasted and the edges ever-so-slightly charred. They were packed absolutely full of food and I don’t know that I’ve ever found ham anywhere that was quite like what Steverino’s delivered. They were terrific sandwiches. And this Buffalo Rock, this just knocked me on my backside. It came in a little ten-ounce bottle with a green and yellow label. It looked like a cola but it tasted a little more like ginger ale, but not very sweet at all. The ginger flavor was very strong, with a real spicy kick, bearing only the faintest resemblance to the Canada Dry or Schwepps brands with which I was familiar. The dark color really threw me; I coined the term “ginger cola,” which isn’t technically accurate as it doesn’t have any cola flavor in, to visualize it and later learned that others have done the same.
My dad grew up in Fort Payne, a small town on I-59 between Birmingham and Chattanooga. I mention this because I phoned home not long after that dinner delivery, full of certainty that I’d found something completely wild and new and utterly unique, something that was mine, a discovery I’d made in the great big world on my own, and told him “I have discovered the greatest drink in the world. It’s amazing. It’s called Buffalo Rock!”
“Oh,” he said, “I haven’t had a Buffalo Rock in years. That was the only soft drink your grandmother would ever touch.”
That nostalgic period I mention, in other words, was that run of about three weeks when I was naive enough to imagine that there was something new under the sun.
I don’t really understand the inner workings of soda bottlers and distributors, but what I gather is that these days, the Buffalo Rock Company is the Pepsi bottler for Alabama and small parts of Mississippi and Georgia. This may not be completely accurate, but apparently since Pepsi does not have its own ginger ale, grape soda or Dr. Pepper / Mr. Pibb clone, the Buffalo Rock company can supply three additional beverages to area retailers that are not sold anywhere else. Their house brand “ginger cola,” Buffalo Rock itself, apparently predates the Pepsi arrangement, and was first sold in 1901. Grapico, another very old brand, was bought from another manufacturer some years back, and Dr. Wham, as they call their clone, was introduced just a few years ago.
When I lived in Athens, you could only find Buffalo Rock at a handful of places which enjoyed selling oddball sodas to nostalgia-minded folk like me. I’d frequently get a bottle from the dearly missed Barnett’s newsstand downtown, but I could never find it in grocery stores. Honestly, it never occurred to me to hunt for it like I should. Some years later, I found it at a Lewis Jones Food Market in Columbus and I started looking into getting it on a more regular basis.
Buffalo Rock has become much harder to find in Athens, but it’s still around Columbus, and in most grocery stores in Alabama. A year ago, I brought back three 12-packs from a Publix in Montgomery and had the notion, sensible, I thought, to have the Publix where we shop order it in regularly. They were able to do this for me with Ironbeer, sort of an “orange cola” common to south Florida, which I probably like more than you do. I had discovered that entirely by chance when I stopped into a different Publix, in Alpharetta, to pick up a bowl of cantaloupe for breakfast one morning, and grabbed a six-pack because I cannot resist these things. Wanting more, I asked my Publix to order it, and learned to my surprise that the Ironbeer shouldn’t have even been on the shelf in Alpharetta; some delivery driver had made a mistake, just waiting for the serendipitous arrival of somebody like me.
Sadly, my Publix was not able to get in Buffalo Rock, because of some nebulous distribution shenanigans that were never really explained. I didn’t press, thinking it rude; I just slowly watched my supply dwindle and came up with a plan B.
When we were in Birmingham, we dropped by a Publix and I took three cases to the customer service desk and asked the girl whether they could just start shipping them to Marietta, where they’d be appreciated. She replied that we’d need to special order them, and I mentioned that I’d tried that in 2009 and had no luck. She said that whomever told me that was wrong, that Publix would gladly ship any product from any store to another.
So I stopped by a different Publix yesterday and related my tale. The fellow looked it up and said that he’d try to get it. My fingers are crossed.
Now if I could just convince Marie to get her friend in Vermont to keep a steady supply line of Moxie coming, everything will be just fine. You wait and see.