Call the Cheese Brigade, folks. It might get a little maudlin in here.
The truth is, my family's been a Coke family for as long as I can remember. The only carbonated beverage my mother ever let into the house was Diet Coke. She hated the taste of Pepsi, and regular Coke, she said, was just "too syrupy." So if it wasn't water or juice, the only thing we'd drink growing up was Diet Coke. (I'm not quite as high strung about this as my mother, but even today, ordering a Pepsi feels a little like blasphemy.)
I don't say "pop" or "soda." When people came over, I offered to "get [them] a Coke." And on the rare occasion we had something that wasn't Diet Coke in the refrigerator, it would be "a Coke, or something." Now, I just offer "something to drink," and hope that something is a Diet Coke.
So it wasn't a surprise to anyone when, once we realized that Atlanta was the perfect half-way point for the long drive between Florida and Home, my mother announced, "We're going to the World of Coke."
Before we're even allowed into the museum proper, a helpful young woman in a bright red shirt describes the rooms we're about to see. A short animated film, commercials from around the world, Coke Art, a "4D" movie (the kind where your seats move and the chairs in front of you blow water past your ears), advertising, advertising, and more advertising. She excitedly tells us about the last room, the Tasting Center, which features Coca-Cola products from all over the world, making special mention of the Italian specialty. "The Beverly from EEE-taly," she says. "Say it with me now." Beverly from EEE-taly.
(The woman in the next holding room, the one who points out some of the more significant museum artifacts, also mentions the Beverly, as does the animated short we're made to watch. When one computer-generated Weeble wryly drawls to the other about "grapefruit rinds," I think, as I'm sure those around me thought, "Grapefruit rinds? That drink must be terrible! I can't wait to try it!"
The museum, once you can actually get into the museum, is kind of fascinating, if only to see just how far the company's fingers reach. The World Cup. The Olympics. The Space Program. There's a leaf of turn-of-the-century sheet music (that's 20th century, not 21st) with the Coke label on it. In walking through the rooms of memorabilia you realize that, if a thing has ever existed in the world, there's a version of it complete with the famous Coca-Cola script.
The "Pop" art exhibit is great, although the portrait of Mickey Mouse made out of Coke logos is almost on the wrong side of the hipster ideal. The rest of it is...I hesitate to say reverent, because it's a word I use a lot and it's perhaps a bit extreme for the situation, but there is a sense of genuine respect in the pieces. There's nothing superficial about the use of Coke imagery in this art, no cynical commentary of the state of commercialism in America. Just a sincere love for a brand that happens to be a little bit universal.
I think that's why I like the rooms full of old advertising. There's nothing jaded or boisterous about the campaigns. No bravado, and few gimmicks. None of this "The other guys suck, and you should drink us because we'll make you awesome!" nonsense. Just "Drink Coke because it tastes good, and that will make you happy."
And there's just something about coke advertising that gives me the warm fuzzies. I used to get so excited when the winter holidays rolled around, knowing that polar bear was sure to make an appearance. Those commercials always flash me back to my younger days, when I'd wake myself up earlier than I needed to for school, just to be the only one up when the house was dark and quiet. And to pass the time until the bus came, I'd watch the kind of terrible cartoons they only show at 6 a.m. on a weekday. Things at that hour always have lots of commercials, and once we got into November, my mornings were filled with frolicking polar bears. Sometimes even the hint of the Coca-Cola theme sends me to those mornings in my father's easy-chair, wrapped tightly in the big blue blanket, trying to stay warm because he'd turned the heat down that night and the house hadn't had a chance to warm up yet.
Okay. I'll say it. Coca-Cola makes me think of home.
The last room before the gift shop/exit is the tasting room, with its plastic sample cups and variety of international Coke products. The African and South American drinks are refreshing and fruity, while Asia has a sharp, citrusy bite that I halfway expected. There's a big crowd around the Europe station, no doubt for the siren call of Beverly from EEE-taly, and with all the hype, I can't say I blame them. I even stand in line for it.
If you've ever had a glass of orange juice after brushing your teeth, and found you didn't like the taste, perhaps you should skip the Beverly.
And at the very end of it all, you get your very own bottle of Coke, filled on the day of your visit in the slow moving factory display on the first leval. I assume it's Original Recipe Coke, but I couldn't tell you for sure. It's not like I'm going to drink it.
I walk through the gift shop searching for a few pins to add to my collection, still sucking bits of Beverly out of my teeth, and yes, even feeling a bit nostalgic.