My favorite professor at George Mason University once challenged the class to write a piece about ourselves. The idea was to write something about becoming an adult–some thing that had happened to us since starting college that made us realize we were no longer children. Well, I was 30ish when I took this this class so I wrote it a little more tongue-in-cheek. Reading back now it doesn’t quick circle back to my thesis connecting my want of soda through leaving the church to turning into a skeptical indie kid, but I still like it so it’s getting posted. One additional note for those of you who didn’t attend GMU in the late 2000s–there were Chick-fil-a’s and McDonald’s restaurants both on and off campus. Those off served Dr. Pepper (and Coke) and the ones on only served Coke.
When I was a child I was never allowed to have soda, and carbonated beverages became almost like a forbidden fruit. As I grew older and discarded my parents’ probable well meaning ban, I found myself in a unique situation: I had no beverage of choice! While my friends were drinking Coke or Pepsi, I found myself lost on a search for something with meaning. I did not have their ingrained prejudices leftover from parental leanings, I was a fresh, clean slate. I spent the better part of a decade searching for my self, and searching for the perfect beverage. Oddly enough, finding the first was much easier than the second: its end was almost 1,500 miles away.
Most people know that Mormons don’t smoke, drink or do just about anything else I would deem “fun”, but few know that the fun restrictions apply to their children as well: Mormons are not allowed to partake of caffeinated beverages. Translation: No soda. Had I known this little tidbit of information I would have put up a harder fight when my mother married a Mormon back in 1984. I was eight years old at the time, and thought that changing churches would affect my life very little, and besides, they had a Boy Scout troop! My mother tried to be sneaky and served Sprite to the family, as Sprite has no caffeine and thus was “acceptable.” Even at eight years old, I saw through that ruse. After six long years I vowed to win back my adolescent right to sugary sodas and to prove it, I left the church.
Thus began a search for self, and a decade long search for the perfect soda. In high school, I had a friend who introduced me to a weird mix of new-age paganism and Wicca. His mother was a high-priestess of some sort and a coven of “witches” met at their house most Saturdays. I would go and attend these meetings because I thought they were interesting in a lets-worship-the-devil-to-induce-a-parental-freak-out sort-of-way, but I was really much more interested in my friend’s older sister who had enormous… Wait, this paper is about soda, I should get back on topic. My friend’s sister drank New Coke, so I drank New Coke. I was an impressionable freshman, and I wanted to impress this beautiful older woman. For some reason showing up at her house every Saturday with her brand of soda in hand never did work though, and I think she scarred me against New Coke forever. Well, she and Max Headroom.
Through the rest of high school I drank Pepsi both in protest and because it was a bit of a status symbol. There was one soda machine in the building (by sheer chance, a Pepsi machine) in a teachers’ lounge off the cafeteria. With some sneaky maneuvering I was able to procure a copy of the school’s master key that gave me access to just about every room in the building, including the teachers’ lounge that housed the Pepsi machine. Other kids could bring soda to school, but mine was ice cold! Towards the end of my four years in high school, Pepsi released Crystal Pepsi and I loved it! I was about ready to commit for life, but much to my chagrin they stopped making it within a year! I was devastated. I consoled myself by saying “I never really liked Pepsi anyway, I’ll find something better.”
Having no single beverage to call my own, I began a period of my life wherein I thought life had no purpose, but I quickly found one and with it, a beverage to call my own. I got a job in a record store and discovered independent music. I found out how invigorating it was to hate Corporate America and The Man. I applied the early-90s punk ethic to everything I did: I went to indie movies, listened to indie music and drank soda from small mom-and-pop franchises. I tried Orange Crush, Jones Cola, local Root and Birch beers, Cheerwine, and even Faygo (which is terribly gross, by the way). None of them did anything for me. But after a few years of mindless wandering, everything changed. I met a guy who was born in Texas that would introduce me to something he called “the nectar of the gods”, something commonly known as Dr Pepper.
Dr Pepper had everything. It was fantastically sweet and had just a little bite. It had enough caffeine to keep me up on the night shift and had no sticky aftertaste like Coke and Pepsi. Dr Pepper had indie cred: right on the bottle it was marked “Manufactured by independent bottlers.” It had a swanky, retro, 70s slogan: “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?” Dr Pepper came from the south; it was a home grown phenomenon. As a proud Virginian, I embraced this modern southern tradition. My Texan friend and I would go out and enthusiastically embrace any establishment that we found that actually served Dr Pepper, which at the time was a grand feat. Even today, Dr Pepper is only sold in one place on George Mason’s campus: the convenience store in the Johnson Center. Obviously this is a case of The Man (Coke) trying to keep the people (Dr Pepper) down, as off campus both McDonalds and Chick-fil-a serve Dr Pepper.
As grateful as I was to have found Dr Pepper, I had no idea what was in store for me when I tasted it in its true form. A few years ago, a friend of mine joined the Air Force and was eventually stationed in Texas. He called me one day and said “Hey bro, have you ever had Dr Pepper made from sugar cane?” I was taken aback! I thought all soda companies had switched over to high fructose corn syrup back in the 80s, but apparently not! I quickly asked my Airman friend to ship me a case of the stuff and he was kind enough to send me three. A quick Google search later revealed that in fact there was one small bottler operating in Dublin, Texas, that still produced the original formula complete with the original pure cane sugar. It was slightly more expensive to produce and at the time they could legally only distribute it within 44 miles of the bottling plant.1) For more information on Dublin Dr Pepper please see http://www.dublindrpepper.com Once my “Dublin” Dr Pepper arrived, I was blown away by the taste. It was sugary, but not thick. It still had its bite, but it was a tad more refined. I was hooked for life.
Unfortunately, those three cases of “Dublin” Dr Pepper seemed to disappear before I knew it and for a few years, it seemed as thought I would never have access to it again. My Airman friend was transferred from Texas to Nevada, while I sat at home mourning my loss. A year ago, at the end of the spring semester, however, I found hope. A close friend was transferring to the University of Texas in San Antonio! When she planned her Christmas visit home, I mentioned that she should pick me up a case of the stuff. “Sure!” she replied, but when Christmas break came, she had forgotten. I was crushed! On the outside I shrugged it off as “no big deal” but inside secretly began planning a voyage to the Dr Pepper motherland. When my friend left for Texas in January, she made me a standing offer to “come out and visit”. I decided almost immediately that I would love to fly to Texas for spring break. We could tour the hipster bars of Austin, wander the desert at night listening to dub reggae, and make an afternoon trip out to the original Dr Pepper bottling plant in Dublin, Texas for a tour. Of course, I’d ship myself several cases and ration them accordingly.
In less than two weeks time, I will be in Texas completing my pilgrimage to the birthplace of Dr Pepper, and I find it strange how much my search for the perfect beverage tied into my search for my own identity. I had tried conforming by drinking each of the major players in the soda wars and was left dissatisfied. When I tried drinking the minor players I was left with a foul taste in my mouth. Once I finally found Dr Pepper, it fit perfectly within my scope of self with its non-conformist mindset and perfectly balanced taste. And just when I thought I had it all, Dr Pepper had one last surprise for me in its home state of Texas. As I look back over the last two decades of my life, it is apparent that I was a young man looking for something and finding Dr Pepper was an important part of the guiding force that helped me establish my place in the world.