Some people still think New York City is a land of debauchery, where anything goes and everything’s at your fingertips.
Third-term king Michael Bloomberg has done his best to make sure that’s not entirely true. Last week he announced his administration’s plan to attack Big Soda by going after big drinks. Delis, fast-food joints, movie theaters and sports arenas would not be allowed to sell any “sweetened drink” that’s bigger than 16 ounces. Diet sodas and fruit juices are still okay, as are milkshakes and alcoholic beverages, so lushes have nothing to fear, nor do fans of the Big Gulp, as convenience stores are exempt.
The outrage was expected, as were the responses of the plan’s defenders. The plan is meant to combat obesity and it is a noble cause. Yet people are upset and annoyed at Bloomberg’s reach. He usually answers critics with sarcasm and notes that people also complained when he first proposed banning smoking in restaurants and bars and now everyone loves that rule, apparently not realizing that second-hand soda fumes have not — as far any scientist knows — caused cancer or emphysema.
As always, The Onion was ahead of this story; the paper’s “Hershey’s Ordered to Pay Obese Americans $135 billion” story ran in 2000. And when Coca-Cola predictably criticized Bloomberg’s scheme, it called to mind The Onion’s 1996 story “Coca-Cola introduces New 30-Liter Size.” Except in this case, the soda behemoth might have met its match in Bloomberg.
If this zany plan becomes the law of the land, it may prompt me to move back to Minnesota, but not because I’d be protesting Bloomberg’s dictatorial ways or because I’m concerned about the historical, political or sociological implications of such a move. No, it’s because I need my gigantic sodas to rest in my shaking hands.
This law strikes at my probably enlarged heart, as I’m a poster boy for the type of person who can’t say no when presented with a soda cup that could fit comfortably over my head. At McDonald’s I go with the large and would supersize if The Man hadn’t taken away that choice. In the movies, I always go with the biggest container, which I finish halfway through my movie and refill if I go to a second film. Later in the night, when my hands tremble and random spasms appear on my legs and arms, along with just the slightest of pains in the chest area, I briefly panic, thinking it’s the Big One, until Louise reminds me my symptoms are caused by drinking the big ones. Only genetics and metabolism keep me at a decent weight. Otherwise, my anonymous ass would appear on your local news each time the station ran a feature on runaway obesity in America and the producer needed a shot that screamed Fat American.
I enjoy sodas the way sophisticated people savor wine, even though I called them pops the first 28 years of my life. With other soda fiends I debate the merits of Dr Pepper in a bottle vs. Pepper in a can. I could write 500 words on why Mountain Dew is perhaps the only soda you can drink when its warm. What’s the best soda to drink with ice in a glass? Coke, of course. But what’s the best soda with a giant popcorn? Give me Pepsi.
On a normal weekday I’ll drink four to five cans of soda, a total that earned a lecture from my dentist on my last trip, even while he silently calculated how much money I’d provide his family in the coming years. He probably thought I had a problem after I expressed disappointment when I hit the button by the dental chair and water dropped into the tiny cup instead of Sunkist.
Maybe it’s an addiction and maybe this new law will help me, as I’ll work my way down from 32 ounces to 16 to 8 to nothing. But what will I drink instead? Water? That tasteless, clear, life-sustaining, but oh-so-boring liquid? Milk remains a favorite, with my two glasses at dinner sharing table space with my final soda of the night. Two glasses of orange juice a night. The occasional Gatorade after basketball.
But it all comes back to soda. Only once have I ever actually been sickened by the sight and taste of soda. During my trip to Cape Town in 2006, my in-laws — who had been informed of my pop dependence by Louise — stocked the home with Coke. Bearded survivalists with underground bunkers didn’t plan like this. Can after can, bottle after bottle. Coke filled entire cabinets in our bedroom. I tried drinking all of it, wanting to show my appreciation for the gesture. But in the end I ended up like those kids who are forced to smoke entire packs of cigarettes in those mythical tales about parents who catch their offspring lighting up behind the barn. By the end of the trip I begged for any drink other than Coke.
There’s no guarantee the proposal ever becomes the law of the land in a city once thought of as practically lawless. Even if it does, my soda consumption might not be affected. Instead of pouring down a large soda at the theater I’ll go with a medium and a 16-ounce bottle I sneak in. I’ll still get three cans at work and the occasional Big Gulp to start my day. Or perhaps the law will influence my intake, make me re-examine everything I thought was true. My wife would be grateful. My dentist would be happy, even if his children’s college funds would suffer. My stomach lining might say thanks, or would at least go silent after midnight. This proposal could change my life, if not save it.
But if it ever becomes a law, I’ll drown my sorrows in 32 ounces of beer.