It’s June in Atlanta, and that means it’s hot and getting hotter. It was 90 yesterday, humid and mid-upper 80s last week and is expected to hit 98 next Tuesday. (Today has been a respite, with lows around 60 this morning. So much for that.)
That makes me think of the perfect drink for a hot day: an ice-cold Coke.
And not just a Coke, but a Coke in a 6 1/2-ounce bottle. Preferably one that’s just been removed from a mid-’50s Coke machine.
Now, that was the pause that refreshes.
You can still get 6 1/2-ounce bottles these days, but the only place I’ve seen them is the World of Coca-Cola here in Atlanta, where they’re given out as novelties at the end of the tour. (Update: Actually, they’re 8 ounces. Come on, World of Coca-Cola! You can do better!) The Mexican Cokes sold in stories come in 10-ounce bottles if I’m not mistaken, and forget about your local minimart, with those 20-ounce gulps. (In plastic!)
I’m sure part of my reverie is notoriously selective childhood memory. I used to get those Cokes — and the occasional Barq’s — from a Coke machine (like the one above) at a barber shop in New Orleans. It would be a summer Saturday, the weather already sauna-like, with Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek calling the NBC Baseball Game of the Week on the TV. I’d be thirsty, and my father would give me some change for the Coke machine. (I don’t remember how much they cost in the late 1970s, but it was more than the nickel of the 1950s.) I’d scrape my hand trying to pull out the bottle, crown cap first, but when the top was popped, what a pleasure.
The bottle was glass, the ideal container for a cold beverage. And 6 1/2 ounces was the perfect size.
Of course, we’d laugh at 6 1/2 ounces these days — that’s a (large) serving of wine, not soda. Soda comes in 12-ounce cans, 20-ounce bottles, 2-liter bottles. (OK, there are 8 1/2-ounce aluminum bottles, but they’re not very common.) People like to think they’re getting more for less, and it’s in Coca-Cola’s interest to keep the customer satisfied, so if you can buy a 20-ounce plastic bottle of Coke for a dollar, would you pay even 50 cents for a 6 1/2-ounce serving in glass?
Then there’s the matter of the crown caps, and bottlers, and recycling, and distribution. A 6 1/2-ounce Coke is a novelty. They’re literally collector’s items.
These days, I don’t even drink that much Coke — when I’m in a restaurant, or when Passover allows me to stock up on the sugar-sweetened real thing. Otherwise, it’s water, juice, maybe ginger ale or root beer. (Don’t get me started on Hires. Maybe another post.) Still, in these logy Southern summers, if I had to name the perfect drink, it would be that once ubiquitous, now long-lost, bottle of John Pemberton’s elixir.
It was, indeed, the real thing.
Postscript: Look at the Cokes in this recent ad. They’re not 6 1/2 ounces — looks like 10 — but let’s face it: glass bottles are just more refreshing, otherwise the ad agency would have used one of the plastic ones from the minimart. Nostalgia wins!