I grew up drinking Coca Cola or simply what I called Coke. In the south, it is not soda; it’s Coke. As in “Let’s go get a Coke” even when you mean Nehi Orange or something else. A widely known fact is this: Pepsi is a swear word in Georgia, which is the home of Coca Cola. Trust me: true southerners will never say, “I’m dying for a Pepsi.” They just won’t do it. When I was in my teens I thought Coke was its own food group, and if you didn’t have a Coke at least once a week you were in serious trouble. All my family drinks Coke. Cocoa Joy likes Coke but she can’t have it. Dogs can’t have caffeine. So I make sure to keep my “Coke” glass up high where she can’t get it.
The British rarely if ever serve ice with Coke, they put a lot of vegetable extract in, and expect you to drink it at room temperture! (Each nation can “tweek” the Coke that is sold in their country.) Not a good idea! It’s not the real thing! The first time I went to England, I traveled with three “rich” widows, who were going “over” to do some antique shopping. While we were waiting to board our plane in Atlanta, I saw one of them frantically searching her carry-on bag for a package of crackers. Suddenly, out fell a can of Coca Cola. While she quickly retrieved it, I tried not to notice the five other cans stashed in the bag. “Horrible thing about England,” she mumbled. “The Coke is terrible! I always carry my own.” The other nodded in agreement. I looked over at the friend who was with me, and knew we were thinking the same thing: How bad can it be?
Several days into the trip I found out. Square in the middle of Victoria Station as we were scanning the boards to see what train we needed to take to our next destination, it hit me—that weird, crazy feeling that won’t let go—the one that begins as a whisper and builds to a shout: “I want a Coke!”
Here’s the thing about exchange rates: you never think about them when a dire need is involved. A pound is just a little round thing—a coin that fits into a very small section of your purse. Not paper, not big, nothing you have to unfold—just a little piece of silver and something that fits in the palm of your hand. So when the guy behind the counter says, “That’ll be a pound-fifty,” you don’t stop and say to yourself (in a sane voice), That’s three American dollars for a silly warm beverage. None of that goes through your mind—not one word—until you open the can and begin to swallow. Then somehow as the “Coke” makes its way down your throat, your ability to do math kicks in. You realize what you have done and you know it is just not the real thing.
Last year, I was back to London with a friend. We dropped our bags in our rooms and headed out with the cameras. Suddenly, I saw an old familiar look drift over her face. Oh, no, I thought. She is going to ask: “Can we get a Coke.” But she didn’t (sigh of relief), she simply said, “I’m thirsty. Can we get something to drink?” Sure . . . no problem,” I replied. We stopped at a sidewalk cafe to order lunch. I had no doubt she would ask for tea or maybe even water. But guess what when the waiter asked what he could get her to drink, she looked up at him and said, “I think I will have a Coke.”