By Patrick F. Cannon
Just got back from visiting my son and other relatives in Florida. When I left Tampa on Sunday, it was sunny and in the upper 70s. It was sunny in Chicago too, but in the low 30s. Of course, all I had was a light jacket!
I had a Coke on the plane, and was reminded of Cokes of the past. After late-summer pre-season football practice, in a day when coaches were heartless brutes!, nothing tasted better than a cold Coke. Ditto after a pickup game of baseball in the local school yard. In those days – I’m talking the early 1950s – just about every neighborhood had a “Mom and Pop” grocery/candy store. Soft drinks, or Pop as we called it (it was soda to others), were dispensed from a red cooler, which used floating ice to keep the drinks cold.
Although the cooler had “Coca Cola” boldly emblazoned on the side, other brands were available. On some occasions, a Mission Orange, Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer or Nehi Grape Soda might hit the spot, but nothing beat a Coke when you were hot, sweaty and parched. You would reach into the cooler, grab a bottle, and open it on the cooler’s built-in opener. If you were really thirsty, the entire six ounces would disappear in a single gulp.
All of this pleasure and relief cost 5 cents. In fact, a Coke cost 5 cents from 1889 to 1959. That would be about 45 cents today. The average price now – you get twice as much in the can or bottle – is about 75 cents. Which brings me to Pepsi-Cola. When I was a kid, it cost the same, but you got twice as much for your money. I confess I was lured by this when extreme thirst wasn’t the main issue. And who can forget cruising the alleys to see if any rich folks had thrown away empties, which were worth 2 cents when you returned them (5 cents for a quart bottle!).
At one time, more than 80 percent of the soft drink vending machines in this country were owned by Coke bottlers. You world travelers will know that it’s sold around the world. Coke and its various brands still have almost 50 percent of the US market.
When I reached the legal age for consuming alcohol (and maybe a little before, to be honest), Coke was replaced by beer. What could be better than a cold one after mowing the lawn on a hot day; or after a raucous softball game at the family reunion; or a pick-up driveway basketball game? And, as long as it was cold, I didn’t much care what brand it was. To be honest, there wasn’t much difference to me between Bud, Schlitz, Miller’s, Meister Brau, or even the briefly fashionable Coors. When they were properly cold, they pretty much tasted the same (and still do).
Nowadays, the beer aisles at your local liquor store offer a bewildering array of craft and foreign beers. Since my exercise is mostly indoors or on the golf course, they don’t interest me much. Nor do the similar aisles of soft drinks at the local super market. I do like to have some Coke and ginger ale in the fridge for guests, but usually only drink pop when I’m out to lunch. Ordering a Diet Coke with a burger makes me feel virtuous, even though it’s probably not really any better for you than the regular Coke.
That leaves water, which is widely available and cheap (you do pay for it, but its cost is often hidden in your real estate taxes, or rent). I’ve been drinking Chicago water for most of my life, It’s as tasty as the bottled stuff, and just as safe. When I worked for the City of Chicago, I toured the water treatment plant – it’s the world’s largest – and can assure you they do a great job. Oh, and the last bottle of store-bought water I had proclaimed in small print: “Sourced from municipal supplies.” You know, like Chicago.
So, in the unlikely event I ever have to mow a lawn again, I’ll probably be happy with a cold glass of the old H2O.
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon