Saturday, January 16, 2010

Now, and forever, I'm still a Pepper

In an effort to drum up more interest in its recently launched Dr Pepper Cherry, Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. has bought advertising time during Super Bowl XLIV. The purchase marks the first time in the company's 125-year history that Dr Pepper will advertise during the National Football League championship, which will be broadcast by CBS Corp. on Feb. 7.

Look at that, my little over-caffeinated baby's all grown up. On Super Bowl Sunday, I'll be crammed into a small seat on a large plane flying over the Atlantic. By kickoff we'll be about halfway through our torturous 22-hour flight. My legs will be numb, along with my sense of time and space. I'll be thinking about underwear bombers and worrying about Louise's worries that I'm developing blood clots in my long legs from sitting down for too long.

And I'll be missing the first paid ad in the Super Bowl from Dr Pepper, a drink I consume by the gallons on a yearly basis, a drink I consider to be the king of all sodas. Ahead of the so-smooth Mountain Dew. Ahead of Pepsi. Even ahead of the former heavyweight champ, Coke. Pepsi created headlines a few weeks ago by announcing it wouldn't advertise during the big game. Seems like a perfect time for the Doctor to start its quest for world domination.

I don't drink coffee, I have wine once a year, champagne maybe once every two years. When out with friends once or twice a month I'll enjoy a few beers. While I also drink plenty of milk and juice, soda is my beverage of choice. Water sustains life, but Dr Pepper makes life worth living. On an average day, I'll drink two or three cans of Dr Pepper a day at work and about a liter at home. I savor each drink and the mysterious taste. Part of me realizes I can't keep this pace up forever, though I'll give my best shot. Even now, at 34, it does affect me in ways it never did before. Some nights when I'm struggling to fall asleep, I'll blame the restlessness on anxiety or a mid-afternoon nap, until I remember the two glasses of Dr Pepper I drank at 11:30. Is caffeine finally taking a toll?

To this day my mom can drink coffee at 11 p.m and be asleep by 11:05, as if a doctor just gave her an IV filled with 10 ounces of liquefied Ambien. Medical journals should study her. I usually react in a similar way, but if it's starting to keep me awake at this age, there's no way I'll maintain her pace when I'm 60.

The truth is I don't really discriminate much when it comes to soda, which I called pop the first 28 years of my life. Each soda has its time and place, depending on the setting, the container and the available refrigeration. Dr Pepper's my favorite canned soda on an everyday basis in the office and the best in 2-liter form. But on a day when temperatures reach triple digits and the sun's broken through the planet's ozone defenses and I'm ignoring the advice of the medical community by shunning water, a cold can of Coke refreshes like nothing else. Don't know why, just know it's the truth. Early in the morning, when people are waking up with their freshly brewed coffee, I'm eating my morning donut and drinking a can of...Pepsi. It's the one time I get Pepsi from a can. Certainly it's psychological at this point, a conditioned response that's nearly impossible to break. Again, I don't know why the taste of Pepsi goes best with a white-glazed doughnut, but it does. Come 1 p.m. and lunch - and maybe again one more time around 4:30 - it'll be back to Dr Pepper.

For a long time at work, the company in charge of our vending machines taunted me, putting Dr Pepper some weeks but forgetting it others. Couldn't that company's pencil-pushers see the raw numbers, which must have shown how quickly Dr Pepper sold out whenever they stocked it? Finally one early morning, I cornered the worker. As he filled it with Coke and Diet Coke and Sprite, I implored him to always put Dr Pepper in.

"So many people here like it," I said, not knowing if that was just a lie or a dream. Something clicked, because today the slot holding the sacred red can is always full.

If I can only get a 20-ounce bottle of soda, I'll go with a Coke. Most Dr Pepper bottles I see are shaped differently, slightly stubbier. They always seem to be lukewarm.

Speaking of warm, most people have an aversion to ever drinking warm soda. I'm unafraid, though it's certainly not the ideal. But if there's nothing else available, Mountain Dew is the best soda to drink in that state. A cold Mountain Dew really isn't much more refreshing than a warm one, which is probably more an insult than a compliment. Yet in another form - in a glass with ice - I prefer Dew to all the rest, even the beloved Pepper.

With all of this, it must always be the real thing, the one that's bad for the nervous system, digestion, everything. The one that causes twitches because it's so loaded with caffeine. Never a cherry off-shoot, nothing with the word Free or Zero in the name. Diet? It's a four-letter word. I've never finished a complete can of diet soda, no matter how many times people push a brand, whispering how it's so much like the real thing I won't even notice. Those campaigns never work. Dr Pepper even makes that ridiculous claim part of its marketing plan, adding the words "Nothing diet about it," to the cans. But after my first sip I knew Diet Dr Pepper was like all the rest, a pale - if healthy - imitation of the original.

Surely this will catch up with me, perhaps sooner than I'd like. Severe stomach pains will lead to a visit to the clinic. When asked by the doctor how much soda I consume in a day, I'll start off by saying "a couple of cans," before he eventually pulls out the ugly truth. The doc will hold up an illustration showing what the inside of my stomach looks like now, and what it will look like in 10 years if the corrosion continues. Like Roy Hobbs, my stomach could explode if I continue.

Maybe then I'll make the switch.

There's only been one time in my life when I felt close to overdosing on soda. During a six-week trip to Cape Town in 2007, I drank nothing but Coke. Louise's mom stocked up after being told it was my favorite. Rumors of a Coke shortage in the country also led to the hoarding. She filled the fridge with cans. Boxes of Coke spilled out of closets. No Dr Pepper, no Pepsi to offset the increasing bitter taste of Coke. I became a Coke fiend and just wanted to stop. Ever since then I've been somewhat reluctant to buy Coke in bulk. I was like the kid who gets caught smoking by his dad and is then forced to finish off an entire carton to learn a lesson. I did learn that there is a thing as too much Coke.

But there can never be too much Dr Pepper. I'll be saying that on my deathbed, even if the drink puts me there.


Cheri said...

Right on my brother.

Shawn Fury said...

In the annals of Dr Pepper experts, you are still the Queen, as my understanding and appreciation of the drink still lags behind yours (remember how excited you were when Burger King in Worthington came and had Dr Pepper?)