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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

Diet Vanilla Coke

November 1, 2002

There was a time when I drank soft drinks like a champ. Dr. Pepper was a personal favorite, but I also liked Mountain Dew (what's up with those rumors about Mountain Dew doing bad things to you -- I never got that) and Welch's Grape (aka "Belches" in seventh grade vernacular circa 1989), and the rare but amazingly tasty Welch's Peach. There was a Texaco station down by Harding and Trousdale in Nashville that sold the stuff, and I would make trips there just to get it. Kinda like now how I go to the Racetrac gas station next to work for the Fruit Flavor Certs. Gotta go where you must to find things in short supply like that.

Sadly, Welch's Peach disappeared one day, and that was it. I think it went the way of Crunchy Nut Oh's (in the blue box, which teamed with the still-available Honey Graham Oh's in the late 80's as the all-time greatest tandem of cereal). There was a third I believe, an apple flavor with a green box, but as Bill Simmons would say -- that never happened. Honey Graham in the yellow box, and Crunchy Nut in the blue box, no questions asked. That has me thinking-- there needs to be a cereal hall of fame. I think might be just the place to tackle such an important task. Early favorites: Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries (the heroin of cereal -- good gawd, that stuff is amazing), Honey Graham Oh's, Pro Grain (a short-lived cereal that actually got me started reading Sports Illustrated back in 1988 -- how whack is that?). Other contenders include Golden Grahams, Clusters, and many others. I think the hall will have a special General Mills memorial section (for the horrible prohibition that my mom forced on my brother and I against GM cereals in the very early 90's because of a rumor that the company donated some amount of money to groups that didn't condemn abortions). Yes, that really happened. I couldn't make stuff like that up if I tried. And while I welcome ideas, no Cinnamon Toast Crunch suggestions, ok? Or else I'll banish it to the Hall of Shame with Kix, Kaboom! (the cereal that literally had so much artificial coloring that it would turn your shit different colors) and Grape Nuts.

But back to the matter at hand, I used to love those sugary soft drinks. I'd drink a 20 oz. Mountain Dew like nobody's business.

Then in late 1999 I decided to start eating healthier. Less fast food, less sugar drinks. It was a slow transition, but slowly but surely I weaned myself away. Water more and more worked its way into the cycle (not because I was feeling cheap, but because I wanted it).

But one thing I couldn't stand were diet drinks. I think at that time I would've rather drank Swill (the water that's dreddddddddged from Lake Erie). Seriously, they tasted repulsive to me. Not good.

Then in the summer of 2001, Jeff Berardelli and Ted Daniel from WTSP had a party at their house. Being that I was driving and all, excessive alcohol consumption didn't play into the equation for me. I searched in vain for a regular soda, but no dice. There was a Diet Coke there. So, making a face, I cracked it open.

Now, to my total shock and surprise.... it wasn't half bad. Really. Drank it and actually didn't mind it. No kidding.

So that marked the transition into the world of diet soda. Unfortunately for me that also meant an end to the limited caffeine intake for me. But given that I work the third shift, a little legal energy boost is all good in my book.

Not too long after that, Coca-Cola debuted "Diet Coke with Lemon". Now this was a step-up, I thought. Tasted good, better than plain Diet Coke. But the burnout factor eventually came in, and it soon became relegated to mixing with Seagram's 7 or Rum.

Then in the summer of 2002, those crafty folks at Coca-Cola came out with Vanilla Coke. I broke ranks and had a sugar soda, trying Vanilla Coke and absolutely loving it. Of course I had that sugar rush of ugh you get when you're not used to that kind of sugar oversaturation. Which in hindsight is fortunate, cause I think the hook would've brought me back, as Blues Traveler would say.

I learned news soon after that a Diet Vanilla Coke was in the works. My interest was piqued like you wouldn't believe. One of the downsides to being self-sufficient is that anticipation is limited. You want something, you purchase it (unless it's a Dodge Viper). You wait for a game to come out, and then you buy it and the build-up is over. The frustration of youth is the inevitable, interminable wait for things, coupled with the much slower passing of time. I'm firmly convinced that the older you get, the faster time moves.

But Diet Vanilla Coke was the exception. I couldn't wait.

And then, last month, the big day arrived. Coca-Cola shipped it out to stores nationwide.

In an interesting move, the drink debuted in only 20 ounce bottles. I bought one at Winn-Dixie and put it in the fridge. Even managed to wait a day or two for it to become properly chilled... talk about self-discipline.

And I opened it, and that first sip... wow. Amazing. Tastes to me like a regular sugar soda. In fact I checked the label in disbelief, thinking maybe "Diet" was a ploy and it actually had sugar. But nope. Amazing.

I'm hooked. I almost wonder if Coca-Cola snuck cocaine back in the formula (like they used to have it prior to the 1910's) from the sheer addictiveness of it. To point -- I brought in two 20 ounce bottles to work, arriving at 9:45 PM or so. By midnight they were both gone. I thought about it -- that's a 40 of Diet Vanilla Coke, like I'm throwing down some Colt 45. After that I had to seriously lay down a policy of only one Diet Vanilla Coke per night. Otherwise I'd be like Big Red at the 1996 Phi Tau camping trip ("Sir Piss-A-Lot").

How good is it? I e-mailed Tom Austin, the man in charge of the building and grounds at WTSP, to see if we could get it in the machine at work. And by word of mouth it's growing in popularity. Sorry Pepsi and RC, but Coke has me hooked. Diet Vanilla Coke is it.

Look, I don't care if you think diet sodas taste like piss. This is different. Don't think Tab, or Diet Rite, or Diet Mountain Dew (which really does taste like piss). No, Diet Vanilla Coke is worth at least sampling. Or if you must have an extra 250 calories, try a can of regular Vanilla Coke. It's nice, too. I'd offer to refund anyone who tries it and doesn't like it, but then I'd have to beat them violently about the face and cranium to hopefully knock some sense into them.

Step aside Welch's Peach -- it was a nice 8 year run on top. We have a new champion. It's Diet Vanilla Coke. All hail the king.

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