I invented Diet Coke. No really, I did.
I was with my soon-to-be stepdad, then-to-be adoptive father, but that’s a story for another day. It was the summer of 1980 and I was 8 years old. He was walking me up to the grill that bordered the pool at our swim and tennis club. The ordering window was high up and in deference to the pixie sized clientele, 3 large, boxed shaped steps covered in cheap carpet stood square in front of the opening. I’d climb on up and almost always order the same thing; a cheeseburger, a Cactus Cooler and for dessert, a half of a cantaloupe filled with lemonade.
I know you have many questions about this order, namely why would an 8 year old consider fruit a dessert. I can only tell you that I was the victim of a persistent and effective brain washing campaign. My husband jokes that given the choice between a brussel sprout and a piece of candy, I would choose the brussel sprout. He’s right. As for the lemonade in the middle, I don’t know what culinary genius introduced me to that palate pleaser, but I highly recommend you try it.
I know you want to hear about Diet Coke but a few more thoughts are flooding back to me. Namely, a cheeseburger outside on a hot day kinda sucks. I remember opening the foil and a wave of steam rising up and enveloping my warm, slightly sunburned face, sticky with layers of sunscreen mixed with chlorine and other delectable molecules contracted from a public pool. Starving, I would quickly take a bite and the scalding grease would drip down my chin. The ketchup on the burger would have had just enough time to heat up and burn my tongue. I’d take a swig of the Cactus Cooler, perhaps the finest soda in the land, but it wasn’t quite cold enough and the carbon dioxide bubbles would expand in my throat and get stuck above the blob of meat and cheese and bun. And yet, if given the choice for my Last Meal, this would be in high consideration.
Back to my invention…
We walked in silence from the chaise lounges to the grill. I was considering my order. Maybe I’d mix it up a bit. Sometimes I’d substitute a scoop of chicken salad with 1000 Island dressing on the side. The kind that’s so thick with corn syrup and pickle chunks that it has to be poured from an oversized syrup dispenser and clipped off by the sliding metal cover snapping back into place. And for the drink? No distraction there but I did have a fleeting thought that escaped my lips.
“Hey, how come there’s Diet Pepsi, but there’s no Diet Coke?” His retort came sharply, “what do you think Tab is, Stupid?”
Two years later, Diet Coke hit the market. Just the right amount of time for some zealous young Coca-Cola exec to have overheard my idea, pitch it, formulate it through R&D and bring it to market. “Just for the taste of it.” You know, because we already have Tab.
I’ve been back to the club in recent years and the carpeted steps are gone. Some dumbass kid probably fell and the club was sued. Now that’s stupid.