The Fizz that Refreshes
by Patricia Draznin

There are two kinds of people: Coke drinkers and Pepsi drinkers. Okay, three kinds of people, the ones who don’t consume carbonated beverages, probably because they never learned how to burp the vowels. I drink Coke AND Pepsi, sometimes in the same glass. But enough about me, at least until the next paragraph.

This week, the Coca-Cola Company made headlines when three employees stole the company’s secret formula hoping to sell it to PepsiCo. But Pepsi execs declined on account of being too busy guarding their own lame formula, which doesn’t taste much better. As far as I can tell, the real burglary happened years ago when corporate efficiency stripped all the colas of their flavor. Not that I’m bitter, no, all that low-taste high-fructose corn syrup takes the edge off that.

The original Coca-Cola had plenty of taste along with some bonus features we’ll consider today as we examine the history of Coke, the soft drink that Things allegedly Go Better With. And whose Super Acid Powers have been rumored to dissolve rust, teeth, pennies, sperm, and internal organs you might miss later on.

As history tells it, the original Coke syrup was born in 1886, when Atlanta pharmacist and noted morphine addict Dr. John S. Pemberton mixed a potent elixir that promised to cure everything from hangnails to hangovers. These were the days when pharmacists dabbled freely in concoctions, hoping to conjure up The Miracle Cure Of The Century that would land them on Oprah or at least the cover of Potions Quarterly.

When Pemberton tempered his bitter tonic with sugar, his product tasted way too good to be medicine. And when he added seltzer, a delicious bubbling beverage was born that people would have guzzled by the quart even if it tasted like Windex. WHY? Because these were the days when medicine was strictly unregulated, when the pharmacy closet looked more like the FBI evidence room, when real remedies like opium, morphine, and cannabis made plenty of folks feel okay about getting sick.

Pemberton’s original Coke formula combined alcohol with medicine’s darling duo of the decade, caffeine and cocaine, whose explosive combination made it possible for anyone to be just a few drinks away from Ruler Of The Universe. Each glassful delivered nine milligrams of cocaine—almost half the minimum daily requirement of a modern day user. The Real Thing at five cents a glass. Maybe that was the formula worth stealing.

One century later, the average human is always within arm’s length of a Coke, if not the whole damn bottling plant. But now that the magic is gone it’s hardly worth the reach. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t need cocaine in my soft drinks necessarily. And Pemberton’s formula would never fly today anyway, except as The Pause That Convicts, Have A Coke And A Cell Mate, or The Official Soft Drink Of San Quentin. Just the original old flavor would do it for me. And with so many choices like Classic Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Jerky, why not one more? Let’s call it BLOW-free cola. Or Everything But Coke.

Copyright 2006 Patricia Draznin


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