imagine a place eerily similar to duluth in temperature, cubic inches of snow, and great lake tallies. now, subtract coke cola. i am here. picture me parched.
A HISTORY OF A COKE DRINKER
early 80s: i am born into a pepsi family. my dad plays for a pepsi-sponsored softball team. my dad's best friend from high school married my mom's best friend from high school and they have a son my age who is pretty hot shit. while not related, we all share the same last name. mr. non-related pista works for pepsi. he drives a white pickup with the pepsi logo on the side. so do most of his other friends.
their home is teeming with pepsi products and pepsi gear. when we visit, we are served pepsi and diet pepsi and mountain dew and diet mountain dew. there may have been some root beer. it comes with three ice cubes in plastic pink glasses. at softball games, non-related mrs. pista sits in the bleachers on a pepsi seat cushion and uses a pepsi cozy to keep her diet pepsi cool. her visor says pepsi.
we looooooove pepsi. we are the pepsi generation.
our pista family doesn't drink much pop. and when we do, we have to ask, beg, plead for a can. we would have more success asking if we could please, please, please put the fork in the light socket or play with the toaster in the bath tub. but when we do drink pop, we drink pepsi.
we are encouraged to give pepsi up for lent.
mid-80s: my mom is grocery shopping at barlow's. my brother and i are tagging along for the pizza samples, pretzel skewered cheeses and a desperate hope that just this once she will buy a sugar cereal.
one kiosk is conducting the pepsi challenge. to those cursed to be born post-1990, this involves drinking a dixie cup of pepsi and a dixie cup of coke and then telling a woman with a clipboard which you prefer.
mom: mmmm ... this one.
woman: tadahhh! its pepsi.
brother pista: mmmm ... this one.
woman: atta boy! that's pepsi, too!
me: mmm ... this one.
woman: (frowns) hmmm. that one is coke.
i'm stunned. i ask if i can try again. the woman shakes her head. i stumbled from the research lab feeling alienated.
"i swear i like pepsi better!" i tell my mom.
early 1990s: i start drinking dr. pepper. i can buy a 12 ounce glass for 40 cents in the commons of my high school. almost simultaneously, i discover slim jims.
"when i go to college, i'm going to just drink dr. pepper and eat slim jims for every meal," i tell my friend betsy.
mid-1990s: before i leave for college, betsy pulls me aside with a concerned frown.
"remember when you told me that you were going to live on dr. pepper and slim jims in college?" she asks.
"no," i say.
"well, you did say that," she reminds me.
and i guess it wouldn't surprise me if i did.
"anyway," she says. "i just want you to know that if you do that, you'll probably get really sick."
once i begin college, i ingest hearty daily doses of coke. sometimes three or four cans a day, with small glassfuls at meals in the cafeteria. i make friends with like-minded drinkers: red lipstick always has a stash of coke beneath her bed, while another friend always has a stash of diet coke, which she drinks from a can with a straw. (we eventually lose touch).
no matter how many cokes i have in a day, every time i crack a can i listen to it hiss, take a sip, smile, turn to red lipstick and say: hmmmm heaven in a can.
my sophomore year, pepsi gives my college a shitload of money for exclusive rights to all soda fountains and pop machines. i scribble an irate letter to the editor of my college newspaper, but never send it.
2000s: as an adult, i taper my intake a bit. enjoy a 20 ounce bottle per day. it is one of few instances of product loyalty and it makes me feel better to have this well-honed, carefully studied, scientifically proven preference.
i sit in front of my computer with an idea. instead of sending complaint letters to people and places that wrong me, i will send love letters to companies that improve my quality of life. coke gets one. (as do the doritos people, the slim jim people).
i'm hoping for coupons or free samples.
coke sends me a frameable certificate that recognizes my years of loyalty. i put it somewhere, but i don't remember where.
current: these days i only drink coke on occasion; i'm more inclined to drink powerade or gatorade or water or coffee. sometimes i'll have a coke two or three days in a row. sometimes i won't have a coke for a week. and sometimes i'll have one, but it will be diluted by whiskey so it doesn't count. and while i don't crave it or neeeeeeed it, i like knowing it is an option.
last night: i notice a pepsi machine on the floor of my hotel.
today: even the convenience wall in the lobby has just pepsi. i trudge toward applebees with a heavy heart and order a coke with my lunch.
"is pepsi okay?" the server asks.
"why is there no coke in this town?" i ask.
"why is it so cold in this town?" she laughs.
"no. no coke. why no coke?" i correct her.
she gives me a puzzled look.
"can you put grenadine in my pepsi?" i ask.
twice more i am overwhelmed with a need for a coke.
twice more, i'm in a place wearing the red, white and pepsi blue.
and thats when i start noticing that pepsi machines are everywhere. in front of every building, on every lawn.
i notice it so much that it starts to get freaky.
and i start to get thirstier. for a coke.