My husband and I lived in Southern Oregon for nearly two decades in the heart of the Umpqua Valley. During those years vineyards were popping up all over the Pacific Northwest, and our valley was no exception.
However, we were also young parents with two small kids, living off humble salaries, so I couldn’t partake in the hoity-toity activities that my more affluent friends and coworkers enjoyed, such as wine tours.
Not one to be left out, I decided to organize my own affordable wine tour, but I ran into another problem: I don’t really like wine.
I was, however, addicted to Diet Pepsi. And I loved the idea of traveling with good friends, drinking our favorite beverage with a tour map in our hands, finding our way to the best places in town for on-tap soda. Once I had reviewed the wine-country movie “Sideways,” I figured I was good to go.
Mindful of the price of gas, we decided to stay in our small burg, seeking out the best on-tap D.P. (D.P. is the street name — cool people know this).
Next I asked myself “Who should I invite?” So, I grabbed my friends Kathi and Julie, two of my favorite drinking buddies, and Julie’s friend Sharon visiting from San Francisco. Sharon didn’t drink soda or eat sugar (I know, insufferable), but she was willing to be the clean, objective palate on board. Plus, she doubled as our designated driver just in case we got carried away during our D.P. bender.
We created an ad hoc rating system. The place of business was rated for ambiance, background music (because D.P. always tastes better with great ’80s music), cleanliness and accessibility. We rated the D.P. on carbonation-to-syrup ratio, temperature and full-bodied taste (or lack thereof). Oh, and I had heard that many wine tours offer refreshments along the way, so I picked up a jumbo bag of Twizzlers, ripped it open and stuck it in the center console for the D.P. tour attendees to enjoy.
Our first stop was a drive-up window at a quickie mart. The first thing we detected was a strong ammonia smell wafting out the window, though the first sip made me forget the smell. Everyone agreed — this soda stop offered the true flavor of D.P.
Next, we headed to a mom-and-pop store down the road. This store didn’t provide a drive-thru window (subtract 5 points), played country music overhead (down another 10 points), and the man in front of me in line had handcuffs hanging out of his back pocket (loss of 15 points). Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m on a mission for D.P. I like to (1) stay in my car, (2) listen to my own music, and (3) not fear for my life. Plus the Diet Pepsi had a tinge of Dr. Pepper flavor in it. Echoing my favorite Dorothy Parker quip, my reaction was “What fresh hell is this?”
We headed down the highway a bit to a gas station/store/taco place. Fancy! But hold on, the store required me to walk in, THEN (adding insult to injury) made me pay for my drink before I could even get a cup and head to the fountain. Sure, they were playing The Cars overhead (add 10 points), but the fried food mingled with the D.P. (and my clothes) and ruined the vibe for everyone.
Next, we drove through downtown, crossed the bridge and pulled into a store that had a drive-thru window (huzzah!), KISS playing overhead (we asked) and friendly service (add 10 points for each). The ice-to-soda ratio was perfect, the taste was full-bodied, the bouquet was magnificent and we all agreed — hands down — we had a winner. The best on-tap D.P. in town.
Just last month, Kathi and Julie visited me in Arizona and commented on how times have changed since our wine tour. Our kids are grown, we have more money to spend, but Diet Pepsi still plays a role in our friendship.
At one restaurant Kathi ordered a D.P. and the waitress said, “We have Diet Coke. Are you okay with that?” Kathi, ever the sommelier of soda drinks, wrinkled her nose and said, “Just iced tea then.”
In our drink choices as in our friendships, we are committed.