Drying Out in the Desert

It’s not often I get on a health kick. But now and then, I get a little burst of enthusiasm. I recently took a look at my life and decided to try and improve my nutrition. No, I won’t be giving up mashed potatoes. Or donuts, if I could find any decent ones. I decided to go right the for the big one, the one they said I couldn’t do. I decided to give up Diet Coke.
Not that it would be easy. I know where every fast food restaurant in Los Angeles is, and how much the biggest Diet Coke costs, including tax. Your Super Quencher will be $1.61 at Jack in the Box. Extra-large (ask for “the 44-oz.”) is the same at Carl’s Jr., except occasionally they bump the price back to $1.50 for some reason. Don’t bother with McDonald’s unless it’s summer–the rest of the time they only have large, not extra large. I have been known to choose my cars based largely on the quality and quantity of the cup holders available. Sorry, new Volvo convertible–you won’t be coming home with me. In other words, I like my Diet Coke.

But I realize there’s no nutrition there. All you’re really guzzling are artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, sodium and caffeine. Yum. Not to mention that $1.61 adds up, especially if you’re really hot and busy and might have to get two in the same day. And there’s the embarrassment factor if you have to give someone a ride and they see all the empties rolling around in the back seat. So it’s a no-brainer, right? Give up the DC.

The first week wasn’t that hard. My friend PK and I went out to La Salsa for lunch, and she offered not to drink one in front of me. Not a problem, I insisted, I am a rock. Plus it was Diet Pepsi, so not really a temptation. I hauled my water bottles everywhere. Looked the other way with stern resolve when passing Jack in the Box. It really wasn’t all that hard. But then I hadn’t really been tested yet.

I was headed to Two Bunch Palms for a relaxing week. My room there had a kitchen, but I wasn’t bringing any soda, just healthy water. I rushed around a little getting ready, and was on the freeway on time. Until I hit Pomona, when the 10 freeway came to a complete halt. We sat there. It was hot out. No one was moving. And there, just up the freeway onramp, taunting me, was a Jack in the Box. In the afternoon light, it took on a slight glow. A reassuring, soothing aura. Up there, above the traffic, above the frayed tempers, it shone like a beacon. “Come to me,” it called. “Come to me and be caffeinated.” My Higher Power never stood a chance.

One soda, just to get me to the resort. That’s all I got. It tasted like heaven. But I only needed one. I got off the freeway and drove proudly past the grocery store. No need to get a six-pack for the room, no need at all. But I went a mile out of the way to Carl’s Jr. to get just one more. It was the last one, really.

From there it was just a short slide down the cola gutter. Every morning I woke, full of resolve. Every noon found me in the car on the way to Carl’s Jr. I would not get a six-pack, I wouldn’t, because I was really really quitting after this one. By the end of the week I was in the car, going through the drive-through wearing only a bathrobe and slippers, with leftover facial goop streaked across my face. I had no shame left. I was just grateful they had the drive-through.

I’ll give up Diet Coke very soon. I’m almost ready. In the meantime, don’t sell any of your Jack in the Box or Carl’s Jr. stock, though.

Copyright 1999 by Janine Smith. Not to be reproduced or distributed without permission