Reprise: To Quench a Modern Thirst

As many of you know I’ve been on a quest to find God’s perfect beer for going on two years. I don’t have a clue how many brands or styles of lager, Pilsner, ale, bock, porter and stout I’ve tried but the search will never end. Why? Because new breweries pop up everyday and everyday some brewery releases a new variation to the marketplace.

Yahoo, Kick Start!
Yahoo, Kick Start!

Today I was walking through one of the box-store chains and noticed a large display of Mountain Dew. This wasn’t, however, your regular high in caffeine, high in fructose corn syrup, Mountain Dew. This was something new and different. This was Mountain Dew Kick Start, coming your way in 16 oz cans, four tantalizing flavors, and loaded with 92 milligrams of rompin’ stompin’ caffeinated glory!

That’s just what the world needs, yet another freakin’ beverage to crowd the already sagging store shelves. Seeing this new drink evoked at least two memories. First is the cold war toothpaste comparison between America and the Soviet Union. While you could buy dozens of flavors, colors and sizes of toothpaste in America, Soviets, when there was any to buy at all, had but one choice, plain old generic toothpaste. Second was remembering a story I wrote years ago about how simple it once was deciding what to quench your thirst with.

With that in mind, here’s a reprise of that earlier story as published in the Highland County Press newspaper.

Every time I whip into a convenient store for something to sip on I’m overwhelmed with today’s available choices. Besides soft drinks you’re faced with considering dozens of flavored teas, coffees, chilled bottled coffees, cappuccinos, dairy drinks, an infinite variety of juices and bottled water. And speaking of water, in this new world of paying hard cash for a slurp of nature’s gift, there are even more choices. Will it be foreign or domestic (Sam’s Club sells their own brand of water and stamped on the label is “Made in America”)? Will it be from an Artesian well, a natural spring or simply from some city’s spigot? Will it be carbonated and sparkly? Will it have some artificial fruity flavoring injected into it? Finally, will it be clear or colored? I suppose all this choice makes America more democratic but frankly I liked life better when it was simpler.

Remember when your choices were Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Royal Crown? Throw in a few oddball flavors like Nehi Grape or Barq’s Cream Soda and that was it. You walked into Ed Grate’s grocery, grabbed you a cold one out of an old red Coca-Cola ice water chest, pried the bottle cap off in the side mounted opener and swilled it down while ice-cold water ran down your arm. Today, the world is polluted with giant gaudy soft drink machines sitting in front of too many businesses and none of those machines will let you “put it on the cuff until Friday.” I mostly never drank Coke because it came in six-ounce bottles while Pepsi and RC Cola came in ten and twelve ouncers. There wasn’t near the litter back then because if you carried any of those bottles out it cost you a nickel deposit. So, you made sure the bottle didn’t end up in some ditch. Soft drinks were a rarity when I was a kid. Unlike kids today, who probably have syrupy, caffeinated, carbonated blood in their veins, my mom never kept soft drinks in the house. We simply couldn’t afford them. Sometimes, on Sunday evening, dad would give us some money to run down to Pete’s Market and get a couple of bottles of cream soda and a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream. Mom would then whip up some ice cream sodas while we watched Ed Sullivan on our old black and white Crosley TV. My great-aunt Allen always had a few six-ounce Cokes in her fridge but getting one would cost you several hours of yard work. What a bummer! Probably the first time I ever walked into a place and bought a soft drink was when I was six years old and cashed in a “borrowed” milk bottle at Jamar’s grocery for a nickel. I then asked my “girl friend” Ada for a date and together we walked uptown to a restaurant where I bought us a glass of Coke with two straws. When I became a teenager and worked a few odd jobs, my soft drink consumption increased. I used to hang around Penny’s (America’s only true “malt shop”) and sip on Cokes until my supply of nickels ran out. At one time my friends and I discovered a free supply of cool carbonated refreshment. A local body repair shop put a chest type soft drink machine outside their front door for the convenience of the public. This was one of those machines that held the bottles in a vertical rack and the buyer would insert the appropriate coinage and then slide the bottle out of the rack and through a gate that would then release. Well, one of us discovered that with a screwdriver you could pry the cap off a bottle of your favorite flavor and empty the contents with a simple soda straw. Needless to say, that machine was quickly moved inside. I suppose the point of all this is that if you’ve enjoyed these remembrances with me they are the product of a simpler time, a time when pleasures were fewer, harder to obtain and more appreciated. A time when coming up with a nickel to buy a soft drink or the enjoyment of an ice cream soda were so rare that they still bring a smile to my lips nearly forty-years later.

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