This Coke’s a Loser

It’s my habit when watching TV to pause the broadcast for a few minutes at the beginning of a show so I can skip through the commercials. This is a great way to save both time and aggravation, but it’s just too chancy when watching ball games. To experience the thrill of victory and agony of defeat in real time, I have to suffer through the ads.

That’s how I discovered Orange Vanilla Coke.

In a 30-second commercial that must have played at least a thousand times during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a Coca-Cola truck, an ice cream truck and a farm truck filled with oranges collide on a busy city street. The trucks come to a screeching halt when a crossing guard holds up her stop sign. Out rolls a frosty can of Orange Vanilla Coke. The guard pops it open and takes a big, satisfying swig. Now back to the ball game.

The first time I saw the commercial, I shook my head in wonder. How many flavors of Coca-Cola does one planet need?  But then a light bulb went off in my head. Instead of writing about college mascots or irritating phrases sportscasters use or even about the games themselves, I could write about one specific March Madness commercial. Orange Vanilla Coke clearly fit the bill. So I bought one.

It’s been years since I drank Coca-Cola on a regular basis, but there was a time—most notably forty-something years ago when I was in college—that it was a dietary staple. There’s nothing quite like carbonated sugar and caffeine to get you through a long day on campus. Back then, Cokes came in returnable glass bottles with no “nutrition facts” label. I suppose I knew about empty calories but it didn’t much matter when I chose a drink. Coca-Cola was delicious with almost everything.

But now I know all about reading labels. Here’s what the one on the 20-ounce bottle of Orange Vanilla Coke revealed: No protein. No fiber. No vitamins or minerals. 240 calories per serving. Even worse, that single Coca-Cola contained 65 grams of sugar, all of it supplied by high fructose corn syrup. That’s 129 percent of the recommended daily consumption. The information was so distressing that I toyed with the idea of abandoning the topic altogether and writing instead about how hard it must be to referee a close game. But I was already in too deep.

So I took a big swallow of Orange Vanilla Coke. It was horrible. Sickeningly sweet, lacking any discernible citrus flavor and nothing like the good old real-sugar Cokes that came in 6 ½ ounce bottles. I didn’t discard the rest of it, though. Because I’ve discovered that a bottle of Coke poured into a toilet bowl and left to fizz for a few minutes before scrubbing erases even the most stubborn stains.

Perhaps that’s what they should have bragged about in the commercial.

(April 14, 2019)