The Hard Truth about Soft Drinks

This bubbly blog is about soft drinks.

Nobody I know actually calls them “soft drinks.” Pop. Soda. Cola. Maybe, soda pop. My Mom used to refer to everything in this category as Coke. Then, again, the only pop she liked was Coca-Cola, so that’s why everything became Coke. Meanwhile, my Dad’s idea of a “soft” drink was to stretch out in his heavily-padded recliner and have a brandy and water, light on the water.

Now, I’m not a doctor. Nor, do I play one on TV. However, for the right price, I am more than happy to play a doctor on TV. Or a lawyer or a salesperson or a man in need of some sort of medication or just about any other role. Please, contact me at for more information. For the record, I played a weatherman on TV for many years and only a handful of people ever caught on.

As I was saying, I’m not a doctor but I have heard that drinking soda pop in “mass quantities,” as Beldar Conehead used to say, is not particularly good for you. The bottom line is that too much of the stuff can make our own personal bottom lines a little too bottom-y.

With the medical and semantic disclaimers out of the way, let me just state clearly what this fizzy epistle, or e-fizztle, is all about: If you have a favorite soda pop, I envy you.

As a child, I never liked pop. The carbonation frightened me. Yet, I really wanted to like the stuff. It was so cool to see other kids go up to the lunch counter and say “Dr. Pepper!” or “Pepsi!” or “Fresca!” Well, not that many kids actually ordered “Fresca!” It’s just fun to say that word. I’ve read that President Lyndon Baines Johnson loved Fresca. Historians will debate for years how different the second half of the 20th Century may have been if LBJ liked “Wink,” instead. (Wink was marketed as “The Sassy One from Canada Dry.” As if Canada Dry wasn’t sassy enough for the 1960s.)

There was a vending machine in our town that had all kinds of soda pop. One of my brothers would always get a Sun Drop, that Missouri-born citrus-flavored cola. For a while, during his hippie phase, he’d order Mello Yello, instead. My other brothers would get Coca-Cola or Jolly Good. It was so easy for them!

Then, one day, a miracle happened! There, in the vending machine, was ice cold chocolate milk! In a pop bottle! It was delicious and, more importantly, accessible! Now, I could use the vending machine as a road to refreshment, too! To this day, I remember how good that stuff tasted. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. After a few months, it was no longer stocked. And, so, my quest for a soda I could love, continued.

First, I had to overcome my fear of carbonation. I did this by focusing on Mr. Bubble bath products. No, I didn’t drink it. Well, okay. One time. It had a delicate nose and rather soapy aftertaste that lingered on the palate. The most embarrassing thing was that, for the rest of that day, every time I’d break wind, a small bubble would escape making me look like the opening to the Lawrence Welk Show.

Mr. Bubble was a friendly sort. If all bubbles were that way, then, surely, carbonation wouldn’t hurt me. Luckily, this was in the days before those ferocious Scrubbin’ Bubbles arrived on TV. They seemed a little too aggressive for me. Come on, it’s just a ring around the tub…what’s with the anger? Anyway, Mr. Bubble helped me overcome my fear of fizziness.

Next, to find a soda pop with a taste I liked. The old standbys didn’t do it for me and, besides, I wanted something to call all my own. That’s when “he” came into my life. It was about 1973. There he was, just waiting for me: Mr. Pibb.

I asked my Mom to buy a six-pack of this new soda, Mr. Pibb, at Luher’s Market on her next trip. She asked why. I explained that I thought my entire future, in terms of public interactions and social grace depended on finding a soda pop that I could enjoy right along with everyone else. Conformity through carbonation! She said, “Go out back and pick up the dog poop.” But, she did buy a single can of Mr. Pibb on her next grocery run.

When I opened the fridge and saw this

I was in soda pop heaven.

I grabbed the can and popped the top! The little pop-top was like a weapon! The can hissed with excitement! I was living a life of danger! Compared to trying to open those little milk cartons by bending the end just right to drink without getting paper flopping around in your mouth, this can opening routine felt like Clint Eastwood riding into town. I was the Man With No Name and No Milk Mustache and this was My Fistful of Soda!

I took a big slug!

Down the hatch!

And, right back up through my nose!

The carbonation got to me! Mr. Bubbles, you traitor!

Honestly, I didn’t really like the taste, either. Not just Mr. Pibb but any of the cola flavors. Sure, I could’ve gone the lemon-lime route but my Mom made me drink 7-Up and eat saltines whenever I was sick so that sort of ruined those sodas for me. It’s hard to be refreshed by a drink you associate so closely with Lysol, Mentholatum and a plastic basin sitting by the side of your bed.

By the way, I’ve heard that they now call Mr. Pibb, Pibb Xtra! Apparently, it is so delicious they don’t even need to use the letter “e.” Frankly, it seems to me that Mr. Pibb is going through the soda pop version of a mid-life crisis. “No more Mister! Call me X!”

That’s okay. Call him Pibb Xtra. But, to me, he will always be Mr. Pibb. The soft drink that stole my heart and then made it come up through my nose.