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I haven’t had a soft drink/soda in going on 9 years; I decided to give up my Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, and Coke addiction when our first child was still little. I didn’t need all the bad gunk, (caffeine, sugar, etc.), and I figured it would be easier to keep our (then only) child from getting into them if he didn’t see me always drinking the stuff. I talked about quitting cold turkey here.

Several months ago, I discovered Tropicana Light Orangeade. It comes in a 20 oz bottle, has no caffeine, and only 10 calories per bottle. It actually tastes really good, and so it immediately became my personal little treat to satisfy my sweet cravings without injecting a bunch of sugar into my system. It served as my stereotypical “beer” each evening when I got home from work. I’d pull into the garage, get out of my truck, open the garage refrigerator, grab a bottle of this orangeade, and walk into the house.

But then it stopped showing up in stores. It disappeared from everywhere we had previously found it. Turns out, Tropicana stopped making the drink. Well, damn.

I went a few weeks without having my liquid cheer, and then I was introduced to Fanta Zero Orange drink: sugar free, 0 calories, looked promising. But how did it taste?

The carbonation shocked me. I know that’s a strange concept, but really, it did. I haven’t had a single swig of anything carbonated in almost a decade. My palate has long sense forgotten the sensation, so the fizz and bubbles totally caught me off guard. I actually had the reaction you see on TV and in movies when someone throws back a shot of whiskey for the first time.

But otherwise, it’s good. I decided to give this a shot at being my “evening beer,” and although it took a few cans to get over the carbonation sensation, it’s serving me well.

* * *

As a family, we usually drink water with our meals. (Plus some milk and/or juice at breakfast.) Neither of our boys drinks any kind of soda, and only rarely will I drink tea. (Ice tea, sweet, the way God makes it, naturally.) Judging from the way some restaurants, (mostly of the fast food variety), we must be the only people in America who drink water with our meals.

Whenever we order something that can come as a single, (like a sandwich), or as a combo, (like a sandwich and drink), it seems to throw the order-taker for a loop when we turn down the “deal.” Yesterday, I actually had to explain my decision to the cashier when he tried to explain to me how we’d get the drink with the food due to the day’s special deal. We made our order at one end of the line, and then when we and our food reached the check out, the guy automatically handed us soda cups, (instead of the water cups we know they usually give for water).

“We’re just getting water,” I said.

“But,” he said, “you get a drink with the meal today.”

I looked up at the sign announcing the daily deals, and saw the price. Sure, the food-and-drink deal was cheaper than normally buying the food and drink individually, but it was still a buck higher than just the food and water. (The drinks are normally $1.50.) I’m not all that tight with my money, but this would be four bucks more for something we didn’t want and wouldn’t get. It’s the principle of the thing.

“No,” I said, “we don’t want the daily deal. We just want waters.”

“Really? he said, astonished.

“Yes, we just want waters.”

“OK, well, you can still use these cups to get water,” he said, and tried to give me the big cups.

We go to this restaurant a lot, so we know how the system works. “You probably should just give us the water cups, since we aren’t paying for sodas,” I said.

The teenager at the register shrugged his shoulders and traded the big soda cups for the smaller, clear water cups. He then told me the price of our meals.

I looked at the register screen. “You charged us for sodas,” I said. We’ve been there a lot. I know how much our meals usually cost.

“No,” he argued. “The sodas are free with the deal today.”

“No,” I argued back. “How much is a burrito normally?”

“Um, I don’t know,” he said. “Charlie,” he spoke to his coworker, “how much is a burrito?”

Charlie looked over at us and answered, “Something like four forty-nine.”

“And,” I added to the cashier, “how much is the daily special with the drink?”

“Um, I don’t know,” he said. “Charlie…”

I looked up at the daily special announcement: the meal plus drink was $5.55. A dollar more, per meal, for drinks we didn’t want.

Charlie came to the register and listened to the cashier explain the inconceivable concept of how we didn’t want the meal special. Fortunately, Charlie didn’t try to argue with me, and he just altered the sale to the correct amount. I paid, took my water cups and moved on with our food.

Really, that whole exchange was unnecessary. I don’t think the cashier even really understood what my “problem” was. He’s probably still confused about why anyone wouldn’t take “free soda.” I wonder if he ever bothered looking at the prices to see what the meal deal actually was. We don’t drink water to save money, we drink water to drink water. Are we the only Americans who do?


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