A sweet trip down cola lane
By Bill Fields
Like many people, I’m trying not to drink many soft drinks these days. I have an occasional Coke Zero at a Sunday matinee. Earlier this year, while on the mend from a stomach bug, I don’t think I’ve had any ginger ale that tasted better. On a recent business trip south of the border, I sampled a Mexican soda of the variety I’ve observed in coolers, but not consumed, from my favorite neighborhood haunt that has the world’s best breakfast burritos.
These are diversions from the water norm, tap or sparkling, but it wasn’t always that way.
I saw a social media post recently about “113 Things ’60s Kids Did That Would Horrify Us Now.” OK, it wasn’t quite that many, but you get the point: We’re basically lucky to have survived childhood because we played unsupervised, rode without being seat-belted or helmeted, and walked to school alone.
Among the things we also did was drink soft drinks, and I was among the guilty. A pie chart of my childhood beverages would be sweet — and not only because of the iced tea and orange juice that augmented all the milk I drank at supper.
Certainly, drinks were smaller back then. It didn’t make much sense to guzzle a 6 1/2-ounce Coke, because it wouldn’t last very long. A 10-ounce bottle of Pepsi seemed big. Splurging for a 12-ounce fountain drink at the drug store was an event. When quart-size colas with resealable caps started appearing on the Big Star shelves, they marked a massive step in carbonation evolution, a hint of Big Gulps to come.
I was a cola kid raised without strong allegiance to either of the behemoth bottlers. It was as if Carolina and Duke are both good schools, and Democrats and Republicans are both good people. I occasionally joined the RC Cola camp, that flavor being a favorite on comic-book runs to the Ideal Market on May Street.
For a succession of beach vacations, to the justifiable annoyance of other family members, I was obsessed with a brand called Topp Cola sold at the grocery store on Ocean Drive that was not available in the Sandhills. There are pictures of me posing on the Strand with a Topp can looking as happy as if I’d just hit for the cycle in a Little League game.
I moved on from my Topp phase, with other tastes taking its place. If Dad was in the mood for something stronger than beer during the holidays and had stocked some Collins Mixer, I pestered him until he let me have some of the bubbly lemon-juice soda. Wink was like an explosion of grapefruit flavor, and when he kept that around as a mixer I’d sneak a sip of that too.
Yoo-hoo always seemed like a poor imitation of chocolate milk, but I’d get one from a drink machine on a gas station bathroom stop. I was equally indifferent about Cheerwine, despite its North Carolina roots. It tried its hardest as a cherry soda, but if I was going that flavor route, I preferred a fountain cherry Coke or a cherry Sno-Cone.
TruAde was the best, though. Trademarked 80 years ago, the orange soft drink stood out from everything else because it was pasteurized and non-carbonated. It tasted so smooth and so good because it contained orange juice concentrate, which was the reason for the special processing. The temptation was to chug a 7-ounce bottle. But I savored every sip when I got one when Dad took me fishing at a local pond or ordered me a TruAde when he stopped for a late-afternoon beer at a tavern downtown on Connecticut Avenue and let me tag along once in a while.
Five years ago, driving through Cheraw, South Carolina, en route to Southern Pines, I stopped at a convenience store for something to drink. In the beverage cooler was a name I hadn’t seen for decades — TruAde. It felt like coming upon a Topp Cola at the beach in 1968.
This TruAde was in a 20-ounce plastic bottle, and unfortunately the packaging wasn’t the only thing that had changed from the TruAde of my youth. I drank about a fourth of it and threw the rest away, realizing I would have to be content with a sweet memory. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.