03 Sep

Share a Coke with a Commie!

Pepsi, better known as Satan's Swill, with Devils Tower (Wyoming) fittingly shown in the background.

Pepsi, better known as Satan’s Swill, with Devils Tower (Wyoming) fittingly shown in the background.

I have to hand it to the marketing folks at Coca-Cola. They’ve got me praying a lot more these days.

The “Share a Coke” campaign, with personalized labels of the 1000 most popular names in the country, is a stroke of marketing genius, one that has folks not only buying more Coke, but sharing the experience with others as well – both virtually and in person. Rifling through the soda case looking for a friend or loved one’s name, snapping a selfie with the bottle, then sharing on social media or through a text? Coke has somehow made purchasing a soda a shared experience. And in my case, a spiritual one as well.

When I reach into the soda case at Wawa and grab a Coke, I stand in line and ponder the name in my hand. Perhaps it holds the name of relative, an old classmate, or a childhood friend. The bottle suddenly brings back long forgotten memories and friendships, and I find myself saying a prayer for that friend while waiting in line at the register. I may not Tweet or text, but I do pray. I wonder how the marketing folks at Coke measure spiritual media metrics.

Recently, the bottle in my hand prompted me to “Share a Coke with Dennis.” The irony of Dennis’ name on a Coke bottle was not lost on me, and I flashed back to our fourth grade classroom.

There was Dennis, pulling out a can of Pepsi from his brown lunch bag.

“Pepsi?” I blurted out, astonished to discover that there were actually people in this world who drank such swill. I was raised in a good, Catholic, Coke family, and Dennis’ soda was an affront to my core values. “You like Pepsi?”

Dennis was matter of fact in his reply: “Yeah. Coke sucks.”

I sat there in disbelief. Dennis, raised by a Pepsi family, had insulted my beloved Coke in pretty strong words for a 10-year-old. I had to defend God, country, and Coke.

“You commie scum!”

This was 1985, with the waning years of the Cold War not yet fully given over to the coming threat of masked terrorists. Yes, G.I. Joe cartoons had begun to tell kids that its special mission force was dedicated to “defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world” (sound familiar, anyone?), but movies like Indiana Jones and Rocky IV told me that communists were still the enemy of choice.

Dennis did not take kindly to my socialist slur, and summarily threw down the obligatory challenge: “Call you out. 3:00 – Holy Child schoolyard.”

The fight was on.

3:00 came and went, though, and I sat nervously in my house with our mutual friend Kevin, trying to ignore the agreed to appointment. Perhaps Dennis will forget about the fight, I tried to convince myself. The doorbell rang, and my hopes vanished. This was Dennis, a kid literally from the other side of the tracks, and he might just be brazen enough to knock up for a fight.

Instead, he sent his representative. My mother answered the door.

“Mrs. Dolan, Dennis is up at Holy Child waiting to beat Mike up. Is he home?”

Kevin, my representative, went to the schoolyard to broker the peace. A deal was reached (an apology from me the next day at school), and a lesson learned.

“You have to be careful what you say to people,” my mother said afterward. “People believe different things. Be careful with your words.”

Indeed, people do believe different things. I was from a Coke family and couldn’t see that perhaps others felt differently. After all, passion runs deep when it comes to the sanctity of God, country and Coke.

It was just such passion that caused an outcry from Coke’s family of soldiers when the company decided to tamper with its secret formula in the spring of 1985. New Coke lasted just 79 days, thank God, and this summer marked the 30th anniversary of the return of Classic Coke to store shelves. I remember well those dark days 30 years ago. I was in a fourth grade classroom, calling a friend a commie.

Dennis and I remained both friends and adversaries over the years, running in the same pack of friends but never quite seeing things from the same side. We finally came to blows in our senior year of high school, a fight that had been brewing since my no-show 30 years ago. It was brief as far as fights go, and our friend Kevin was there to broker the peace once again.

Under the light of a streetlamp, Dennis and I leaned against the hood of a car and made peace for the last time.

“We never did get along,” Dennis started.

I agreed.

“I’m not sure why,” he continued. And then we both wondered aloud.

“Maybe it was the way we were raised.”

“We’re different people.”

“Our parents are nothing alike.”

“We have different backgrounds.”

“You love Pepsi. I love Coke.”

We laughed.

Acknowledging our differences did not necessarily lead us to respect those differences, but it did allow us to accept that there are differences. And that’s a start.

It gives one hope for the future – hope for a world furnished with love, with apple trees and honey bees, and snow white turtle doves.

Indeed, I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

If Coke and Pepsi can co-exist in peaceful harmony, perhaps world peace is possible after all.

That, my friends and commies, would be something worth sharing.