The greeter who directs people onto the lot looks nothing like Officer O'Dell, and the salesman in a white shirt waiting to shake my hand as soon as I emerge from my potential trade-in is no Audra. But the spirit of Shagman and his wacky companions looms large over Rocky's, a bright motley of pennants, balloons, Day-Glo stickers and late-model, fossil-fuel-burning chariots of all makes and persuasions. Well, almost all.
Federal is a car culture, a pilgrimage on four wheels, and Rocky's is its mecca. The business started a generation ago on the cusp of Mile High Stadium but moved four miles north in 1992; it's still family-owned, still churning out dopey commercials that make you wonder if there's a family-sized tank of nitrous oxide in one of the back rooms. You won't find any snobby "pre-owned vehicles" here, just a vast array of used cars, with no particular brand loyalty.
In a recent commercial, Shagman intimated that Rocky's was the most popular car dealer in the state. "Popular" being a term of art, that prompted a mind-bending apology in another thirty-second spot, which ended with Officer O'Dell escorting a sobbing Shagman to the slammer. Shagman has yet to claim that the place has a mile of cars, as in a classic Kurt Russell flick, but he does insist that the place is the highest-volume peddler of clean used cars in Colorado.
The weekend rush is still hours away, and my salesman, Mike, is low-key and surprisingly soothing. I tell him I'm looking for something sharp but economical, and he gives me that like-who-isn't smile. Music blares from speakers around the lot. While Mick tells us to get offa his cloud, we check out a nondescript Kia, a blah Intrigue, even a canary-yellow VW Bug. Can I fit my ego into a Suzuki Esteem? Am I noble enough for a Mitsubishi Galant? Do I yearn for a Ford Aspire?
Sadly, there's not a hybrid on the lot. I set my sights on a little more flash and financing, and Mike leads me to a 2003 silver Honda Accord with all the trimmings. The Accord has 79,000 miles plus change, and I'm beginning to wonder about the criteria behind the "Low Mileage" stickers that grace just about every windshield on the lot. Apparently, the odometer has to be in six figures to earn a different blurb -- "Still Runs," perhaps.
It takes a helpful fellow with a razor blade a couple of minutes to scrape off all the stickers and festoonings so we can take this baby out for a spin. The test drive goes well. No pressure, no hustle, just Mike murmuring a mesmerizing incantation of features and options. Sunroof, leather, six-CD changer. Side-curtain airbags. "Water management system," which has something to do with the way the rain sluices off the roof. The words "heated seats" come up about four times, as if nobody should contemplate winter driving on Federal without a rump roast.
"What can we do to earn your business today?" Mike asks.
I tell him I'm not ready to buy. We head back to the sales office, where a vast sea of picnic tables loaded with crayons and coloring books -- Shagtoons, featuring Shagman and helpful advice for kids -- await the harried families with leg-clinging tykes who are just starting to filter in. I get a free hat and one more invitation to think it over from a friendly sales manager. If the Accord doesn't cut it, he says, how about a Saab? Volvo? Nissan? You name it, we got it.
For a moment, I feel like haggling. Something in me wants to snarl, "Fifty bucks never killed anyone." But for all the folksiness and inventory at Rocky's, and the absence of the dread and brain damage you can suffer at the high-pressure dealerships, I don't think I've found my ride and price quite yet. I take Mike's card and promise to return.
I get in my old car, put on the gimme hat and check the mirror.
Shagman stares back. -- Alan Prendergast
Angel's Sports Bar
"Ready for the shot?" Johnny Blaze says to Chief. Chief nods his shaved, goateed head, and the shot glasses are raised and emptied, a mixture of Tuaca and Red Bull sliding down the two buddies' throats. Blaze shifts his attention to the female bartender in the tight shirt, chatting her up in Spanish, while Chief returns to the sketchbook lying on the bar in front of him, his colored pencils shaping crowns and racing flags and flaming skulls, his mind formulating new designs for his tattoo side business.