I know, I know, it’s illegal, but I did it! As a matter of fact I’m having a Caffeine Free Diet Coke right now! But it’s not the same thing, it’s not the real thing, not like Coke, made with sugar, in a bottle.
Soda was a staple growing up. My father owned a liquor store. He’d bring home flats of soda on a regular basis, we’d never run out, even Yoo-hoo, that’s how I found out about Gil McDougald, before that I had no idea who he was. I once brought my entire Little League team to my garage so they could have free soda. It tended to be Cott, cherry and orange, not that Coke and Pepsi were illegal, I remember the old Pepsi logo, with the swirl, but I preferred Coke, until I went to college, when the machines were Pepsi-only.
Of course I can tell the difference. Pepsi is not only sweeter, but you can drink the whole can in one fell swoop. You cannot do this with Coke, because of its effervescence. I’d drink three cans a day, for 15¢ apiece, that’s what they cost, until Vermont became the first state with a bottle law, when they went up by 5¢, but finding a place to take them back was a near impossibility. They’d always require you to have bought them there, and they knew we were college students, assuming we even had a car to get us there in the first place.
But during my senior year of college I had a car, a ’63 Chevy convertible my dad had bought for $350, overpaying because of low mileage, which my sister drove at BU and then got handed down to me. That’s when I switched to Coke, in twelve ounce bottles, I was burned out on Pepsi, I could now go to the grocery store and buy Coke, it was a relief.
And I stayed with Coke until they came out with the new one, literally New Coke, which was in ’88, right? Of course I could look it up, but sometimes you just want to rely on your memory. I remember where I bought it, when it was rare, at Jay’s, the convenience store up the street.
I got it home, chilled the bottle, broke it open and then…
Severe disappointment. A flat sensation in between Coke and Pepsi that satisfied none of my taste buds. Meanwhile, real Coke was unavailable, I switched to Pepsi and then…
I found Caffeine Free Diet Coke in the fridge in Vermont.
No, I did not partake of Diet Coke. Because of its bitter aftertaste. It wasn’t quite as bad as the dreaded Tab, but it was not for regular consumption. And now I’m confronted with a can that not only does not have sugar, but is sans caffeine to boot, it’s got NOTHING! I expected it to taste like water. But surprisingly, it tasted better than regular Diet Coke, less bitter, less aftertaste, a facsimile of real Coke, but at the time you could not buy real Coke, and the Coke that came back to market had fructose instead of sugar, so I switched allegiance.
And then everybody went to water.
I feel like an adolescent. The holier-than-thou tribe excoriate me every time they hear I consume Caffeine Free Diet Coke, like I’m putting poison in my body, like if I drink enough cans I’ll die. But I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t smoke cigarettes and I try not to eat rice or bread and am I entitled to live? NO!
As for water, it’s just not satisfying, especially that wimpy stuff with a couple of calories that’s “flavored.” It’s got color, but to the degree it’s got taste, it’s icky. As for truly flavored water, it’s got as many calories as Coke, so I might as well drink that.
But I don’t. You see getting older certain foods become illegal. See a baby boomer eating french fries and you’re convinced they’re going to drop dead in the next couple of weeks. And as my nutritionist says, nobody gets to eat everything they want. So we’re all limited, we’re all restricted, and my problem is when I go off the rails, I go big. I eat all the chocolate chip cookies, I have a shake with my burger, so I try to keep the reins tight, but this week I’m losing my resolve.
Last night I ate chocolate pudding. Not a whole hell of a lot, but enough to satisfy. The worst thing is eating crap and finding out it doesn’t live up to your expectations. But this did! And today when I went for a drink at the bar…
Coke must be a sponsor. I was carrying around a glass of water all day, even put a lemon in it, but it was like drinking medicine, I just could not consume it. And when I went back for one more glass, I saw the bottles, Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite.
Now on a plane, I go for Diet Sierra Mist, or Diet Sprite. Hell…I’ll occasionally buy Diet 7-Up or Diet Ginger Ale at the grocery store. I’ve become so sensitive to caffeine. I don’t drink coffee, but I used to drink full-strength Coke and Pepsi, but now I don’t. As for Diet Coke, it too has caffeine, so I never partake, I don’t want to be up all night. And I must mention that zero calorie Vitamin Water is quite tasty, but it’s hard to find, so…
I’m striding across the landscape, I’m bellying up to the bar, I’m getting ready to pour some water and then I see the little Coke bottle and I say to myself…
Hell, a sip’ll be ok.
It always tastes better in the bottle. But the bottles are rare, but they’re right here. And they’ve got ice! I keep my fridge really cold, my cans of Caffeine Free Diet Coke need no ice. But now, on a hot fall day in Ojai, the thought of a real Coke over ice is irresistible.
I’ll just take a few swallows.
So I fill a glass with ice. I wondered how much to use, but the bottle was not cold.
Then I used a can opener to pop the top, reminding me of the days of yore, in my dad’s garage, using the metal Rheingold or Ballantine can openers to pop the top of soda bottles before there were screw tops.
And then I poured the caramel-colored liquid over the ice and effervescence ensued and I was getting into the mood.
I’d only planned for a little, but I filled up the glass, it looked so good with the ice.
And then I hoisted the glass to my lips and took a sip…
VOILA! My face broke out in a smile, the world went from black and white to color, I thought back to college, I reconnected with who I once was, felt good I was the same guy, and then could not stop.
I was in a good mood. I was in a commercial. My life was better with Coca-Cola.
I walked the grass with a bounce in my step, I poured the rest of the bottle in the glass. I calculated whether it was too late in the day to consume caffeine, decided it wasn’t, noted that there were only eight ounces in the bottle and downed my drink and…
It made my day, I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not going back on a sugar water regimen, but it was like taking LSD, I saw the world in a new way.
Sometimes you’ve just go to color outside the lines.
My name is Bob Lefsetz and I’m addicted to Coke.
AND I’M PROUD OF IT!