Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Carbonated Confessions

Everyone has a vice.

We all have the one thing that we spend way too much time and money on and are really not that good for us in the end. For some people it's as serious as gambling or smoking. For others it's as simple as video games or shopping; but no one is immune, we all have something.

For me, it's soft drinks.

We all know that I have a well documented love affair with Vanilla Coke (which was cruelly pulled from the shelves for over a year but has since made a triumphant return), but that's just the beginning.

I've always been like one of those snobby wine aficionados that enjoys only a specific selection of sodas and turns my nose up at any less superior offerings. In my opinion, a soda should be experienced, not simply guzzled while at a picnic or ball game.

There are only a few, very particular sodas that I will drink, and they are (in order): (1) Vanilla Coke, (2) Mr. Pibb, (3) Dr. Pepper, (4) Pepsi and (5) Cherry Coke or Pepsi (I do have a couple of special occasion sodas: I will drink 7-Up when I am sick and, oddly enough, I will sometimes have a Diet Pepsi when eating Chinese food – It makes sense in my world, baby). I will spare you the romantic details as to why I like each one but the moral of the story is that's the list. Don't even think about trying to slip a regular Coke or a Sprite pass me; it's not going to happen.

As I'm sure you know, there aren't many dining establishments that carry Vanilla Coke or Mr. Pibb (the ones that do become personal favorites and regular haunts) and I am fortunate that while Dr. Pepper is typically paired with Pepsi products in the greater Hampton Roads area (grocery stores, many dine-in restaurants), it is often available at many regional Coke-only venues (Wendy's, McDonald's, etc.).

Such was not the case this past weekend, however.

For the first time since I have lived in Chesapeake, Virginia (almost 15 years, now), I attended the Chesapeake Jubilee. For those of you unfamiliar with this local annual event, it's just a traditional carnival/county fair complete with caged animals, arts & crafts, and overpriced rides and other amusements.

It's basically every thing that I would put on the "con" list of being an American.

As much I tried to be a good sport, the whole carnival experience was starting to wear thin after about an hour and I was ready to leave. Naturally, we had a half-hour walk back to my car so I wanted a soda for the journey and began searching for one of my favorites amongst the throng of vendors.

I was seeing a lot of regular Coke and thought I had a decent shot at landing a Mr. Pibb somewhere but then like a beacon in the night, I saw a Pepsi logo and decided to settle.

"I'll take a medium Pepsi," I said to the vendor.

"Sorry," she said, "We're not allowed to sell Pepsi here. The Jubilee has a contract with Coke."


This legitimately confounded me because I could see the Pepsi AND Dr. Pepper fountain dispenser behind her. She had Pepsi. I had willing money. But she couldn't serve it to me because of a contractual agreement?


I wasn't deterred until I began looking closely at each stand and only saw the same options over and over again.

Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite.

What maddening hell had I wandered into?

I mean I get these exclusive contracts, but there are other soft drinks in the Coca-Cola catalog they could trot out at events like this. Somewhere there had to be at least a Dr. Pepper and I was going to find it. I checked every vendor on the grounds and from what I could see, those where the only three choices on the entire lot.

In a flare of righteous anger, I thought about writing a letter to the Jubilee but then realized that soda selection would only be the least of my frustrations. And then I thought about opening up an "alternative" soda stand next year but then realized that would require me to actually be at the Jubilee again.

So I made the trek back to my car under the hot sun, parched in my principles.

The weekend was redeemed, however, as I was picking up a few things in Target on Sunday evening and found a special on a 12 pack of Vanilla Coke. Maybe it’s just the trauma of the Jubilee fiasco, but somehow this batch seems better than usual; making the wait now worthwhile.

Discriminating taste never tasted so good.