One can often tell what part of the United States that another originates from based upon what word he or she uses to refer to a soft drink: soda, pop, fizzy water, etc. In the South, everything is a coke. The word “coke” can refer to Coca-Cola, which is also known as Coke, or it can refer to any other brand of carbonated beverage.
This can lead to confusion for anyone else who grows up outside of the South. There’s coke with a little “c” and there’s Coke with a a big “C,” which is like how there are gods with a little “g,” like on Mount Olympus, and there is a God with a big “G,” who lives up in Heaven in pearly gated community. Any god can be a god with a little “g,” but there is only one God with a big “G.” (Please note: This analogy doesn’t work so well with atheists, agnostics, and followers of polytheists.
After I graduated from college in 1991, I ended up working at Pepsico Food Systems (PFS), which oversaw the purchasing and distribution of foods for Pepsi-owned franchises, such as California Pizza Kitchen, KFC, Hot & Now, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. I worked in the promotions department, which designed products with the various franchise logos, as well as the promotional t-shirts that you frequently see the fast food workers wearing when they roll out a new food item.
It was a fun place to be in 1993, however, it almost ended one afternoon when I became thirsty and decided to talk down the hall to the soft drink machine. I stopped at the door and said, “I’m going to get a coke. Does anyone want anything?” Keyboard keys went mute, telephones stopped ringing, and secretaries quit gossiping. The only sound was the beating of my heart. I gulped and said, “Pepsi, I mean, Pepsi. I’m going down the hall to get a Pepsi. Yeah, Pepsi anyone?” Immediately, the office returned to normal. It was one of the scariest moments in my life. I thought I might be stoned to death with cans of Pepsi Cola.
I learned to like Pepsi, but after a while, one grows board with drinking the same thing everyday. I soon learned that I could take one of the paper cups with the Pepsi logo on it by the water cooler, sneak down the hall to the soft drink machine, and fill it with Coca-Cola. In the beginning, I just did it to give my taste buds some variety; but as time went on, the subversiveness of getting away with drinking the competition in a Pepsi office made the Coke taste even sweeter. It just seemed asinine that so much fuss was made about sweetened carbonated water.
I moved to Atlanta in 1996, which is the home of Coca-Cola. The soft drink was invented in Atlanta, and one can visit World of Coca-Cola to learn more about its history and influence. I soon heard others make fun of people who worked for Coke. “It’s like a cult,” someone said. “You know, if another Coke employee finds anything but Coke in your refrigerator, he can turn you in and you disappear like Argentina in the ‘70s.”
I thought that others were exaggerating about Coke employees until one evening when I accompanied a co-worker to meet some of her friends who worked at Coca-Cola in a pub. We were chatting over some wings and beers when a Coke commercial appeared on the television. All of the Coke employees went silent, as if they were controlled by some some distant puppet master. Their eyes glazed over and they stared at the TV. I think I even moved my hand in front of the face of the guy sitting beside me and he didn’t even blink. The Coke employees had an expression on their faces like the aliens from Toy Story.
“I have been chosen! Farewell, my friends. I go on to a better place.”
I glanced at my friend, concern in my eyes, but she just shrugged. When the commercial ended, the Coke employees immediately picked up where they had left off, as if Samantha Stevens had momentarily put them in suspended animation while she consulted with Endora. It gave me the creeps.
Maybe that’s why my favorite soft drink is Dr Pepper, which was created in Waco, Texas, where I lived for 10 years when I was a kid. I imagine Dr. Pepper employees to be completely normal. Then again, I’ve never met a Dr Pepper employee.