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I was an addict casualty of the cola wars

OK, I’ll admit it. The PepsiCo Co. has its hooks in me. And if it isn’t Pepsi, it’s Coke (as in Coca-Cola). I’m hopelessly addicted to cola, the kind that Canadians call “pop” and Americans call “soda.” I have been all my adult life, and most of my teenage life. In other words, a really long time.

OK, I’ll admit it. The PepsiCo Co. has its hooks in me. And if it isn’t Pepsi, it’s Coke (as in Coca-Cola). I’m hopelessly addicted to cola, the kind that Canadians call “pop” and Americans call “soda.” I have been all my adult life, and most of my teenage life. In other words, a really long time.

I’m pretty sure cola addiction isn’t listed anywhere as an official affliction, but believe me it’s as real as any other unfortunate ramification of pop culture, and nearly as unfortunate as a bad pun.

I can remember the first pop that started it all.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t a cola at all and it was so rare, and on the market for such a short time, I’m not even sure if it was an actual real memory or not.

But it was certainly vivid for a non-real memory. I remember it was at the Sweet Shop attached to the Paramount Theatre downtown, and I was a pre-teen sitting at the counter with my friends and I was enthusiastically horking down a delicious bottle of pop with a straw.

No biggie these days, but when I was young and the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, most of us kids weren’t allowed to have pop that often. At least I wasn’t. So when I got to have one, it was a huge deal — at 12 cents a pop (sorry).

I can still taste the fizzy sweet and clear elixir in the plain bottle and I’ve never had the pleasure since. The soda pop was called Tingle — after that day, Tingle seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth, as extinct as the roaming dinosaurs. Either that or my memory is as fizzy as bottle of ginger beer.

But my real soft drink habit began innocently enough, as most serious psychological and physical compulsions do. A few years later, as an innocent teenager at our bi-weekly band practices, one of the guys would always bring a case of Coke (as in Coca-Cola) and my fate was sealed.

It eventually became me and Coca-Cola every day, and not just one. But somewhere along the way I finally shook that monkey off my back and replaced it with a similar simian.

My pop dependence somehow switched from Coca-Cola to Pepsi Cola, and I have never allowed myself to be too far away from a Pepsi ever since.

It might have been back when a significant historical event took place — I believe it was in the 1970s — called The Cola Wars.

Initiated as an advertising campaign by PepsiCo, it was all over TV and it consisted of random people on the streets and in malls sampling two unmarked glasses of pop. One had Coke, the other had Pepsi. One had The Real Thing; the other represented the Pepsi Generation.

After sampling both, miraculously, every single random person on TV chose Pepsi as their favourite. Creative selective editing notwithstanding, the ads were a huge success for Pepsi, so of course we had to try our own taste tests. I remember that I actually did choose Pepsi every time, including the time when my smart-alec friend put Coke in both glasses.

Trivia alert! Believe it or not, Cola Wars have existed since the 19th century. Coca-Cola was invented in 1891; Pepsi (which was originally called Brad’s Drink) was introduced in 1898. Thankfully the name was changed to Pepsi Cola on account of the recipe included a non-lethal digestive enzyme called pepsin.

And yes, it’s not an urban myth. Originally Coca-Cola’s key ingredient was cocaine, derived from the coca leaf — hence ‘Coca.’ Coca-Cola was very popular in those days. However, the U.S. government (who were obviously Pepsi fans) stepped in and made Coke remove the coke in 1903, so that it could be sold on the streets illegally instead (the coke, not the Coke).

The ‘Cola’ part comes from the other key ingredient in both soft drinks: kola nuts — which aren’t nearly as illegal as cocaine-ridden coca leaves. So Coca-Cola changed the K in kola to a C to go with the Coca part, in keeping with a personal motto of mine: when in doubt, alliterate.

In any case, cocaine or no cocaine, there is something seriously addictive about Pepsi and Coke. Maybe it’s the kola nuts. Maybe it’s the huge doses of caffeine in each can, cup or bottle. Or the massive amount of sugar. Or maybe the de-drugged coca leaves they use for ‘flavouring’ aren’t as innocent as the government thinks.

All you fellow cola fiends out there know what I’m talking about.

I remember having the pleasant job of working in a law office once, pretending I knew what I was doing in the midst of a large room full of females who did know what they were doing.

One of them, a slender and attractive young lady, was drinking a can of Coke at coffee time, instead of coffee. “Oh,” she said, “My husband and I drink a two-litre bottle of Coke every night while watching TV. We are, like, totally addicted!”

I was astounded at this frank confession and briefly considered organizing an intervention to free her from the grips of Cola Addiction. Not to mention the very thought of ingesting that much caffeine and sugar every night made me shudder.

And then I started adding up my own daily cola tally, and suddenly their two-litre intake suddenly didn’t seem so shocking anymore. But the realization of the extent of my own sad addiction did.

So I’ve been trying very hard to control my cola habit over the years, with sporadic success. I mean, there are certainly worse things to be addicted to of course, and I can feel confident that I personally have kept the PepsiCo Co. alive and thriving lo these many years.

And lately I have been doing much better by replacing my battle with the bottle with bottles of water instead of cans of cola. It isn’t quite the same, but I seem to be shifting at least the psychological part of the addiction over to my favourite bottled water, Aquafina. I don’t go anywhere without one these days.

And I just recently found out another bit of trivia that took me by surprise. Guess who owns Aquafina?

Yep, PepsiCo has its hooks in me.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.