My ongoing love affair with soda pop

My ongoing love affair with soda pop
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My ongoing love affair with soda pop

Soda pop defines my buying habits. If the cost of soda pop is “comfortable,” I will spend all my money at a store. But, if a store charges too much for soda pop, I will banish that store and defend the honor of my sweet love. It’s unforgivable if a politician makes the mistake of intentionally abusing my soda pop love. Soda pop isn’t just a drink, it is a lifestyle.

By Ray Hanania

Of all the memories from growing up in the 1950s and 1960s on Chicago’s Southeast Side, none touches me more than the first time I remember meeting the love of my life, soda pop.

It had beautiful curves. It had real life in it, filled with sparkling bubbles of dreams. It was a bottle of Pepsi Cola. So sweet. Never demanding. And, after enjoying it, I always got something back, in the form of a bottle deposit return. About 2 cents if I remember correctly.

When I turned in a few empty pop bottles to the local grocery store, Hilltop, I would then spend the money on a 10 cent copy of a new edition of the Superman comic book series. And, we’d buy another soda pop.We’d sit on the curb and read and drink, saving the bottle in our red wagon to start the whole process over.

I remember the first time I had a bottle of soda pop. I was with my father and mother at the Palestine Kosher Hotdog stand near the Avalon Theater. We’d go there to eat because, well, my parents were from Palestine (The Holy Land) and anything that had Palestine in its name deserved our support.

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Author Ray Hanania with the love of his life, a bottle of soda pop

Author Ray Hanania with the love of his life, a bottle of soda pop

My dad handed me a hotdog “Chicago Style” — no ketchup, with mustard, diced onions and diced tomatoes, a long slice of pickle and cucumber, sprinkled with celery salt. The bun had little black speckles. You couldn’t taste the speckles but they made the bun look cool. And he handed me a curvaceous glass bottle filled with soda pop. Pepsi Cola.

The bottle did not have a logo. The drink’s name was written under the bust of the bottle in bright red cursive writing. That drink “hit the spot” right away.

Like everything in my baby boomer generation life, Pepsi Cola was glorified by its association with Hollywood movie stars. One of the first was Joan Crawford, who was the spokesperson for the company. A good choice since her husband owned the company. Crawford was a popular movie starlet. She had a long history of movies and by the time I got to watch one, many years later, I could see the appeal. Crawford in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” in 1962 frightened me, though. But I really enjoyed her final move, Trog, the story of the discovery of a Troglodyte near London.

Pepsi helped us enjoy the budding science fiction genre that really took off as we imagined the horrors that might result from the remnants of a post nuclear world. Giant ants. Giant Gila monsters. And, aliens from outer space.

That’s why I was so offended when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle singled my true love out for punishment, imposing a one cent per ounce tax on soda pop and sweetened drinks. The targeted sales tax, discriminatory because it set soda pop up as a special target for her wrath, also upset me because it also focused on my true love’s weight.

A tax on every ounce? Fat shaming, in my moon-eyed opinion.

As the years went on, like everything in life. There were changes. Soda pop morphed from glass bottles to aluminum cans, and a new logo. Pepsi had a rival, Coca Cola, also a very attractive sweet honey, if you ask me. By the time I made it to the Chicago City Hall press room as a reporter for the Daily Southtown in 1978, soda pop had mutated again and I was enjoying a 10 can a day habit. By then, I had switched from Pepsi to Coca Cola.

Unfortunately, my colleague and longtime pal Harry Golden Jr., the City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, was hooked on soda pop, too, drinking 10 cans of Coca Cola every day. That was a problem and since he was the Dean and I was the newbie at City Hall, I had to switch back to Pepsi in the can. We had a little refrigerator in the City Hall press room and he coveted his soda pop, so I had to switch. Fortunately our friendship blossomed and he was instrumental in getting me hired at the Sun-Times in 1985.

I was a dedicated soda can Pepsi drinker for years after that until, as I got older, I started to put on some pounds. We all do as we age. So I switched to diet. The problem was Diet Pepsi didn’t taste so good so I switched to Diet Coke. And I have been drinking Diet Coke at the same heavy pace since.

Well, with one heart surgery (Afib, ring on valve) and cancer surgery, caffeine is a “no no.” So I switched to Caffeine Free Diet Coke and we’ve been happily ensconced ever since.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. He currently writes op-eds for the Southwest News newspaper chain of eight newspapers and is a lead columnist for Suburban Chicagoland. His personal website is www.Hanania.com. Email him at rghanania@gmail.com.)

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author & former Chicago City Hall reporter (1977-1992). A veteran who served during the Vietnam War and the recipient of four SPJ Peter Lisagor Awards for column writing, Hanania writes weekly opinion columns on mainstream American & Chicagoland topics for the Southwest News-Herald, Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers, and Suburban Chicagoland.  

Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America. 

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Click Here to LISTEN to Hanania's live radio show on 2nd Friday every month 7 AM CST. Click here to listen to Ray's Podcasts. 

His columns are archived here. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.

Email Ray Hanania at rghanania@gmail.com.

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