Friday, December 28, 2012

The World of Coca-Cola

As is our family tradition, we spent Christmas in the Atlanta suburbs with my sisters and mother—we’ve been doing this for years, with everyone making an effort to spend at least two days together over Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and most years it’s the only time all four of the Wells Girls are together. This year, Melanie from Chicago, the other Yankee, was absent, but we still had a great time.

We kept a wary eye on the weather forecast for Ohio, though, because a big storm was predicted with lots of snow and wind, and this storm was due to hit on the day we were scheduled to fly home. On Tuesday evening, we decided to reschedule our flight for Thursday morning to avoid spending hours in the airport, and it turned out to be a good call. Our original flight was canceled, and the Thursday flight took off and landed like clockwork. So, what to do with the extra day, we asked ourselves, with the presents exchanged and the food eaten and the movie seen—as my mother’s gift to us all, we saw Les Miserable.

We decided to go into the city and see the World of Coca Cola. It was inside, it was new to us, and it was something to do. The World of Coca Cola is downtown and significant because it’s a Georgia institution. Good luck finding a Pepsi in that town, and good luck not being tempted to call every known soda by the name of Coke, or as they say, “coke-cola.” Want you a coke-cola? Yes, please, I’ll have a root beer.

For a fee of $16, you enter what is basically a museum of Coke—its founding history, its advertising history, how it has permeated our pop culture, how you most certainly crave the unparalleled refreshment of an ice-cold Coke, don’t you? You start the tour Disney fashion in a room full of brightly-lit signs, and you listen to a witty announcer tell you about what you’re about to see. Then you’re herded into a theater-in-the-round for a quick sensory introduction to Coke, and then you spill out into the hub where you can choose which exhibit to see.

You can pose for a photo with the Coke polar bear, walk through an exhibit of the history of Coke’s founder—John Pemberton who was a Confederate veteran and pharmacist—see the vault where the secret recipe is kept, and walk through a mock bottling plant. Upstairs, there is a 4-D theater where you get rattled and sprayed and amused by a silly movie, a smaller theater where you watch Coke commercials through the ages, see an art exhibit of pop art inspired by Coke and a big tasting room with more than 60 varieties of Coke products from around the world.

The tasting room.

The tasting room is the main goal of visitors, apparently. The floor is sticky, as you’d imagine, but you plod through, get a reusable plastic cup, and elbow your way through to the spigots. England has a bitter-lemon variety that is actually quite nice. The flavors are organized by regions of the world—Asian, African, Europe, Latin America and North America. The best moment was when a staff member shouted out over the loud speaker that they needed to mop the floors, so would everyone please move over to North or Latin America.

When you’re sufficiently high on sugar, your given a complimentary bottle of Coke and exit out through a giant gift shop crammed with Coke memorabilia.

There is so much you can say about this experience—it’s nothing but propaganda, it’s a commercial you pay to see, it glorifies a corporation that has contributed to our national obesity epidemic and all the other health issues that follow massive sugar consumption (whether it be high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar), how there are places in the world where it’s easier to get a Coke than it is to get fresh water. All of those things are true. But there is no denying that Coca-Cola is a huge part of our culture—you don’t realize just how huge until you see it all in one place, from the commissioned paintings of Santa that have shaped our image of the old saint since the 1920s to the jingles that are forever embedded in our brain folds to the way we order at fast-food joints.

Coke is it. Coke adds life. Coke is the real thing. I’d like to buy the world a Coke. The great national temperance beverage (seriously). Like it or not, that ice-cold bottle of chemical burn is part of our fabric, so I don’t really feel sullied by paying to tour the World of it all. I feel informed, and a little forewarned, and I had fun seeing the place with the family.

A clock suggesting Coke is good for headaches
and fatigue.
Wallace Beery liked Coke.


dive said...

It's a strange, trippy world you've got there across the Pond, Robyn. After my initial shriek of horror that such a place might exist I kept reading and it actually looks like kind of a fun day out, especially the retro parts.
I've never seen a bitter lemon Coke over here, but then I've not touched the stuff for decades so I've probably just not been paying attention.

Alifan said...

Just popping in Robyn to wish you and your family a very Happy and Healthy New Year.

I must say how much I always enjoy your blog.

Love as always Beryl xxx and Oscar of course x

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