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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    The Saint of Cola

    Not long after a fire closed the 7-Eleven at the corner of Broad and Parker streets in New London last September, a notice was affixed to the front door of the hallowed convenience store. It said that, By Order of People Who Know About Such Things, the building was officially condemned.

    This dashed the hopes and dreams of countless regular customers, including me, who assumed — KNEW — the 7-Eleven would surely reopen and were counting down the days with the same sense of giddy anticipation MAGA folks have waiting on the next Supreme Court decision.

    We were all recognizable to each other. The 7-Eleven loyalists, I mean, not the MAGA folks. We might not have known each other’s names, but I find myself, all these months later, wondering how it’s going for Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, who’d furiously rub his just-purchased scratch-offs even as he was already lumbering across the street to buy MORE scratch-offs from the catty-corner convenience store — before boomeranging BACK to 7-Eleven. Repeat.

    Or Lungsy! Where is she now? O how I miss the sound of her throaty caw as she requested two more packs of Marlboro Quadruple Menthol! And Sharky the Morning Pizza Slice Man — presumably a “Wolf of Wall Street”-style go-getter with his wherever-its-convenient-for-ME-to-park Lexus and and a crisply pressed suit and the assured vibe of a true go-getter for whom breakfast was a triangular slice of pepperoni-festooned greatness!

    Similarly, do they wonder about me with fond melancholy? The tall, increasingly large fellow with a storm-ravaged wheatfield of liquid paper-colored hair, lugging a 64-ounce plastic, cheap-refillable Double Gulp tankard of Diet Coke to the counter?

    “That goofball could sure go through some soft drink!” they hopefully think, smiling in fond nostalgia.

    Y’see, no one had fountain Diet Coke that tasted quite as excellent — or cost as little — as my 7-Eleven. Yes, McDonald’s is reliably very good, but their cups aren’t sufficiently large to appease my thirst. Other fast-food or convenience store locales — Wendy’s, Popeyes, Subway, Burger King — they’re all … OK. They’ll do. They HAVE to.

    My wife Eileen, sensing my agitation, wanted to gift me with an in-home fountain cola machine — a sweet and thoughtful gesture — but I’m having none of it. I failed chemistry in high school, and I do NOT anticipate with any confidence that I’d stumble upon the proper flavor/carbonation ratio.

    For that matter, my suspicion is that not even Marie Freakin’ Curie could do a house-call to calibrate our new machine and in any fashion replicate the precise taste of Diet Coke.

    I’d accepted the realities. There are far worse things happening in the world. I’d be fine.

    But wait!

    Driving by the old 7-Eleven the other day — I frequently go out of my way just to relive Colas Gone By — I glimpsed what seemed to be a new notice on the door. It wasn’t faded by rain and peeling. I whipped a U-turn, cut rudely through a funeral cortege heading the other direction up Broad toward Cedar Grove Cemetery, and wheeled into the 7-Eleven parking lot. I got out of the car to see from close range.

    A new notice indeed! It was a handsomely shellacked mahogany plaque with black Gothic text and trimmed with golden borders.

    “BE IT KNOWN THAT THIS SPOT HAS BEEN DESIGNATED BY FOUNTAIN COLA ENTHUSIASTS OF AMERICA AS A HISTORICAL LANDMARK. IT WILL BE HENCEFORTH AND OFFICIALLY KNOWN AS “THAT PLACE WHERE RICK KOSTER, A COLA ENTHUSIAST NONPAREIL, OBTAINED HIS DAILY LIQUID SACRAMENT.“

    I took a slurp of my Cumberland Farms fountain Diet Coke and wept.

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