Thursday, January 20, 2011
I assume that most people's childhoods were fueled with chocolate milk, or Tang, or those little plastic barrels with the foil tops filled with grody sugar water. Not mine; I have no nostalgia for these things.
The flavor that takes me back to the days of yore is a regional poison that looks like Mountain Dew and tastes like heaven. Anyone from middle Tennessee, north Alabama, and parts of western North Carolina will know the nectar of which I speak. In these areas, it flows like salt water in the mighty Pacific. It is called Sun Drop, and it tastes like lemon pie baked in a lime cake covered with cane sugar pudding.*
There were many legends and rumors about the soft drink known as Sun Drop. We heard that it had more caffeine than eight cups of coffee,** and it was said that Sun Drop was illegal in most states because of the obscene and criminal amounts of that same devil-stimulant. Sun Drop had been around since my parents were young, and it was unique at one point for having bits of pulp floating in it, like real fruit juice. Those were long gone by the time I was in High School, and knowing that they got rid of them makes me wonder what they were, and also afraid to find out.
Our addiction was such that a good deal of our social time was spent simply getting a fix, or on a "Sun Drop run". Back and forth to gas station convenience stores for translucent green 20 ounce bottles. We needed that stuff. It was common for the floorboards of our cars to be ankle deep in empty Sun Drop bottles. This was a thing that we were accustomed to, despite the low breeding of having a filthy automobile. We forgave Sun Drop bottles. It fueled marathon Dungeons and Dragons games and was mixed with vodka (or moonshine) in more insane party binges. It was in our blood. Probably literally.
They say that antifreeze is dangerous because it is terribly poisonous but also terribly delicious. A domesticated animal will lap up that horrible stuff because it tastes so wonderful. This is the curse of Sun Drop; it tastes as good as anything ever bottled by the white devil's machines, but as far as sodas go, it is as close to arsenic as you can get. In retrospect, it's a miracle I'm not chubbier than I am. In fact, its a miracle I'm not downright obese, moving slowly down the sidewalk in a rascal scooter and wearing jeans with elastic at the waist. The amount of sugar I ingested from Sun Drop alone, from birth to age 18, was probably something along the lines of several wheelbarrows-full. If the world was fair, and metabolisms were even-stevens, everyone in "Sun Drop country" would be living with adult-onset diabetes by age fifteen, as opposed to the forty percent or so that it strikes currently.
Yet for all the cane sugar and caffeine and artificial food coloring and other assorted toxins and lab-rat killing chemicals, there is nothing I crave like a Sun Drop when I get off the plane in god's country, middle Tennessee. It is displayed in coolers in solid rows, glowing green in a neon ziggurat like the front doors of Emerald City. You see that display, and all the folly of youth races back into the reptile part of your brain. The craving begins. That sweet, syrupy, fake citrus calls to you like a carbonated siren song. You walk slowly under the fluorescent lights, past the corn-nuts and pork rinds, ignoring the beer coozies and NASCAR ball caps. Despite watching your diet and spending hours at the gym, that nasty stuff has triggered something in you, like the Manchurian Candidate. You are powerless.
Everyone I know that has emigrated out of that particular stretch of the southern United States harbors a deep-seated longing for Sun Drop. Cases shipped from home are treated like fine wine, broken out only on special occasions. It seems people still in the south take Sun Drop for granted. They laugh at the desperation with which we expats chug our first bottle, after being away for months at a time. But when you ask, "I'm getting a sun drop... Do you want one?", they will always, always, always respond with a thirsty "yessss".
Because Sun Drop is awesome.
* does such a thing exist? It should.
** why eight? That's kind of an arbitrary figure for a weird rumor...