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Front Page » April 14, 2009 » Opinion » Staff column: Confessions of a chronic Cokeaholic
Published 2,051 days ago

Staff column: Confessions of a chronic Cokeaholic


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

I am one; I have to admit it.

It's that sweet syrupy taste with a hit of strong carbonation that hooked me right from the beginning.

To the best of recollection I was four the first time I laid my lips on a six ounce glass bottle of Coca Cola. My mother handed it to me at a family reunion at Fairmont Park in Salt Lake City and told me to drink it because I was complaining that I was thirsty. It took me over in a sweet, sugary seizure and I couldn't get enough of it. I was hooked from the beginning.

As a kid I would ride my bike to Sharp's Grocery on State Street from our house about a mile away on a hot summer afternoon just to get a Milky Way and a Coke. My friends and I would work up a real sweat by the time we got there because it was all up hill. Two cokes were not even enough to satisfy our thirst as we gulped down the brown liquid sitting on the curb on the east side of the store where the sun had disappeared behind the building giving us the luxury of the nearly blue afternoon shade from the hot orb in the sky. Then we would take the bottles back in for a refund and buy another candy bar.

Yes it started early and strong with me; if I needed a drink I went for the Coke, as often as I could. By the time I was driving a car, the regular hang out was a hamburger place on State Street. A Coke and some fries were the fare for me; day or night, whether the temperature was hot or cold, regardless of whether I was happy or sad. It was the drink of the day.

Then in my late 20's I became a route driver, then an account manager for Coca-Cola of Salt Lake. That's when the habit really took off. Now I wasn't only the one who needed the fix; I had become a supplier for a product I really loved. At times during hot weather, running a route truck delivering sometimes 2000 cases a day to grocery and convenience stores, I found myself drinking an eight pack of 16 ounce Coke in glass bottles each day from the cooler in the cab.

Not long after I began as a route driver Coke banners hung from my den ceiling at home and a large Coke sign I had inherited from a torn down drug store hung on the wall of our family room. My blood was now not just red, but Coke advertising red. My every thought was of how to sell more, how to drink more and how to get more shelf space in each store I worked from the Pepsi and RC Cola guys who were thinking the same thing I was.

I proudly wore my uniform everywhere I went; to PTA meetings, to church, to bed. My first wife probably got tired of me wearing it everywhere along with having to ride in the small Ford Courier that I had acquired for managing accounts as I worked myself up the ranks of the Coke management. The days on the delivery truck had ended after a few months and now I was toiling selling bulk truck accounts. I spent seven days a week merchandizing Coke and it's sister products on big supermarket store shelves. I was now not only hooked on the product, I was also hooked on the way of life.

My father had worked his whole career as a dairy farmer. I saw him get up every morning at 4 a.m., 365 days a year, regardless of the weather, how he felt or what crisis was going on in our family's life, as he went to milk cows. I swore I would never take on that schedule, yet by the time I was almost 30 I had. But instead of milking cows early in the morning, I was unloading bulk trucks on the dock at Harmons. Instead of plowing fields mid-morning, I was monitoring the sales in a myriad of stores by calling on those businesses. Instead of eating a quick lunch and then scrambling out in the field to haul another load of hay before milking the cows for a second time that day, I was back out pulling carts out of bulk trucks or running a route for one of my absent home package drivers. I got home at 8 or 9 p.m. most nights, had some dinner (and a Coke) and went to bed. I did get some days off once in awhile, better than what my father fared, but the white liquid that had been his master, was in mine a concoction of sugar and caffeine. However, the money I made was much better than what he had ever earned for his hard labor.

Today, 30 years after I posted my last point of sale piece in a grocery store for Coke, I still love the stuff. That sweet, bubbly taste still strikes a vein in me. And for that reason I am now a recovering Cokeaholic.

When I go to a restaurant, while everyone else at the table orders a Coke or a Pepsi, I order water. Once in awhile I stray and grab the occasional root beer, but not often.

At home I look in the fridge and resist the temptation that the Coca Cola that is now packaged in cans or plastic two liter bottles presents to me and either use the water tap or drink orange juice.

I find myself at meetings where we have a catered lunch and there in the cooler are only soda pop cans; so I try to find some H20 instead.

For me the decision to end my life long obsession for Coke wasn't so much about my health; it was about control. I wanted to be able to say no and mean it. Breaking away from Coke was probably much easier for me than for others who are trying to run from tobacco and alcohol, but it did give me at least an idea of what they must go through. It's there at every turn, and sometimes I falter, but I force myself to get back on the wagon. Water has become my elixer of choice. As a doctor once told me, it is the only natural and original drink there is.

Now I just have to work on that chocolate habit.

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