Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Cola Wars

In reading the blog of my friend the Luddite, I've notice that he is apparently an outspoken enemy of Pepsi and claims to never frequent a watering hole or greasy spoon that doesn't serve Coca-Cola. I cannot claim to be quite so vociferous in my opinions about my libations, though from a family history perspective, I'd have to say that I'm a Pepsi loyalist with a Coke mistress.

After the Temperance town south of Lake Okeechobee flopped in the mid-Twenties, my grandfather tried a lot of different things to keep the family afloat. For a while he worked a Standard Oil route and did pretty well until they decided to fire him and give the route to the son of a board member. He had a store/gas station for a while and later, in 1939 or 1940, he got himself a Pepsi distributorship based in Avon Park. There are pictures of he and my father delivering case after case of Pepsi products (and Orange and Silver Nip as well) to little general stores and even to Seminole Indians somewhere in the woods. The distributorship, just like about all of my grandfather's business endeavors, was doomed from the start because he hadn't bothered to read Nostradamus' writings about the coming World War. Sure enough, in November, 1941, my father, seeing the handwriting on the wall, enlisted in the Army Air Corps to keep from being drafted and that, along with the rationing of gasoline, tires and, perhaps more destructive, sugar (for the syrup, artificial sweeteners being all but non-existent in this more innocent time) destroyed the distributorship. My grandparents moved to Sarasota in 1944 and Grampa ended up as a salesman for the local newspaper, trying to sell ads across the South. He died during a business trip in South Georgia in the late '40s, away from the family he loved.

My father's devotion to the perennial second-place cola and to my grandfather's memory probably explains why we always had Pepsi in the house when I was growing up. None of this plastic metric-system bottle stuff, no sir; we had GLASS bottles. Cans were for vacations and only if we had a church key in the glove compartment. My dad would get cases of glass Pepsi bottles (with the painted-on logo) from a salesman who came by the car dealership he worked at. The cases of Pepsi bottles were kept in the trunk of the 1939 Ford coupe (imagine an old VW Beetle on steroids and a pointy nose) that he drove to work nearly every day until the mid-70's. We'd drink up a case, put the empties back in the wooden slots and the case back into the trunk of the Ford, getting a new case of pure carb pleasure to put on the floor next to the refrigerator in the kitchen. There's something missing in our day and age without glass bottles of cola (preferably Pepsi) to pull, cold and refreshing, from a drink machine; the ca-chunk of an aluminum can dropping from a couple of feet just doesn't match it.

Of course, the Cola Wars have had their share of casualties over the years. I can remember on vacations pulling out bottles of the strangest regional brews from gas stations vending machines, names that escape me now. I remember when the local movie theatre (in the days before the mall megaplexes, of course) had summer kiddie movies that required the saving up of bottlecaps from a third-rate cola that you can hardly find anymore in lieu of cash admission. Nowadays, it is thirty flavors and variations on flavors of Pepsi and Coke that litter the aisles of the supermarket and convenience stores; otherwise, your alternatives are usually something with some strange herb from the rainforest as the primary flavoring.

Ours is a divided household; I'm a Pepsi man by upbringing, my wife, because both sides of her family are from Georgia, is a Coke addict. But as with all divided households, the result are offspring that lack strong feelings one way or the other. My girls will drink just about anything we bring into the house, Pepsi, Coke, Dr. Pepper, even (gasp!) generic brands from grocery stores and the dreaded Arkansas Terror (i.e., Wal-Mart; my in-laws, who own stock in Sam Walton's leviathan, have tried to convince me that there's little difference between a Rum and Coke and a Rum and Sam's Choice cola. Of course there's a difference and besides, you'd be run out of any self-respecting bar calling out for a Bacardi and Sam's Choice). The problem with the Internet is that we've read too much about colas and their albino kin (Sprite and Seven-Up) and don't buy as much of them as we used to because of the lurid stories about what kind of ingredients they all have in them that will probably cut short our life expectancy from ninety-five to eighty-nine.

Now we drink water with lime or lemon juice to help keep us healthy. Might have to add some sugar, caramel coloring and fizz to it to make up for the loss.

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