August 12, 2011
On my way home from work I drove past a billboard for a gas station that said, "We have the best tasting fountain in town." So if you see me in a local gas station licking the beverage dispenser it’s not because I’ve lost my mind, it’s because I’m checking to see if it really is the best tasting one. And notice that I call it a "beverage dispenser", even though the billboard called it a "fountain". I would say I hate to quibble over terminology, but the truth is I love to quibble over terminology. Have you ever noticed that whenever people start by saying, "I hate to argue, but…" you get the idea that they really love to argue but just don’t want to admit it? It’s sort of like when someone says, "I don’t mean to offend, but…" and then proceeds to tell you they think all people of your race, religion, sexual orientation, political leaning, or hair color should be thrown into a giant meat grinder and served to prison inmates, but that’s another story.
To get back to the gas station, it’s not a fountain. It’s a beverage dispenser. You can’t call an automated device that you use to fill your ninety-nine cent half gallon Big Glut a "fountain", even if what you call the carbonated sugar water you’re filling your Big Glut with varies depending on where in the United States you’re from. If you’re from New England you call it soda, in the Midwest you call it pop, and if you’re in the South you call it Coke even if it’s Pepsi, unless you’re really from the South in which case it’s co’cola. Calling those automated beverage dispensers fountains is an insult to fountains everywhere, even if real drink fountains, the kind where you could get a handmade ice cream float or malted milk have gone the way of straw hats and men wearing garters on their sleeves. Remember those? Me neither. That was bit before my time. Actually I think it was before my parents’ time, and it may even have been before the time my grandparents sat around drinking co’cola on the porch in the summers. I would say those were the days, but I really wouldn’t know. All I really know about those days is what I’ve learned from television documentaries. It’s fascinating to me that both Coke and Pepsi were originally advertised as having medicinal qualities, but then those were the days when you could go to the corner drugstore and the druggist would give you a couple of ounces of cocaine and some opium, guaranteed to cure everything from wheezer’s elbow to micturition of the adenoids. Or you could sit and have the soda jerk make you anything from a lemon phosphate to a sarsaparilla. I can at least say I’ve tried sarsaparilla, which I’ve always associated with the Old West and men who shot each other over poker games or for snoring too loud. I was disappointed to find that it tasted just like root beer and didn’t make me want to shoot anybody. On the other hand it should be obvious that I get some pretty strange ideas from licking beverage dispensers.