I used to drink Coca Cola by the case back in the day, probably because when I lived in Texas it was considered uncouth to drink any other kind of soda pop.

When I made it to California however, I found my liking for this particular beverage on the decline. Coke tastes different out here, sweeter, less fizzy to me. And California, true to form, I suppose, is all about choice. There's a dizzying array of liquid refreshment available to a thirsty consumer out here. Bottled water, bottled iced tea, bottled iced coffees, sports drinks, energy drinks, milks from around the world, and so on. I found myself relying less and less on carbonation the longer I dwelled in this place.

Last night, though, I threw a little barbecue for Labor Day and when asking the guests what their favorite drinks were (so I could provide them with the meal), one of my friends responded "Pepsi".

I shuddered. While not too familiar with the effects of plain ol' Pepsi, I have seen what Diet Pepsi has done to ruin others lives.

Simply put, Diet Pepsi is an addictive substance. Physically addictive, I'm certain of it.

I didn't come to this conclusion until seeing three different people all exhibit the same addictive symptoms toward this drink. They, indeed, "gotta have it", and simply nothing else will do.

I've watched these three imbibe their drug of choice for a number of years now. They all ingest it in pretty much the same way ... they'll rush to the fridge, grab a frosty can of the stuff, pop it open, and ... shoot it is the only way I can describe it. They'll take a couple of very big swallows from the side of their mouth ... and then the fun starts.

Watching the soda hit their CNS is fascinating. Probably due to the intense carbonation from the first hit, their feet usually do some form of happy dance, or they'll pound their hands on the closest available surface. Then the soda hits their brains. The eyes close. The facial muscles relax. A small smile appears. You can practically watch the years melt away.

A not insignificant belch follows, the smile grows immense, and then extreme relaxation and euphoria set in. They each usually have to sit down once this phase is reached.

The whole process takes about 30 seconds at most. The rest of the soda is forgotten, indeed, unneeded, and will go flat. I can't tell you how many mostly full cans of soda have been poured down the drain, unwanted and unloved.

All my addicted friends would scorn my attempts to describe my anxiety at this sort of reaction to what should be a simple carbonated beverage. Indeed, they thought I was making them out to be heroin addicts.

So, I covertly videotaped each of them in the process of getting a fix (this whole debate about their addiction was good natured, I normally don't spy on people. Not that you'll find out about, at the least). Then showed each of them what they looked like.

They were horrified. They marveled at the clarity of the reaction presented in the tapes.

Of course, they still "Gotta have it". But admitting a problem is the first step to truly enjoying it, right?

So when a friend asked for Pepsi last night, I gave a brief pause for thought, as I've never seen anyone treat Pepsi as my three friends treated its aspartame-enchanced cousin. I thought my friend just hadn't ever had a Coke from Texas and was a poorer person for that.

Until she popped the top. And exhibited the same, the very same!, behavior. The "shooting". The "happy dance". The euphoria, and the relaxation.

I've never been more scared in my life.

So, stupidly and predictably, I decided to jump off the cliff with my friends. I took a can of Pepsi, the first I'd had since I was seven or eight and took the Pepsi Challenge (I chose Coke, by the way). I couldn't get the hang of the "Pepsi Shoot" so I simply guzzled the entire can.

I didn't feel any different. I didn't exhibit the strange behaviors of these ... addled addicts.

Ten minutes later, after guzzling my second can, I still didn't feel any change.

Three hours later, with the contents of 8 of the 12 cans in my stomach, I had to go the bathroom pretty badly.

It's now 5:35 AM, California time, and the remnants of the twelve pack are littered around my room. I've read the last 500 pages of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with no ill effects to report, except some mild insomnia.

I'm waiting for the sun to come up. As soon as dawn breaks I have to go to 7-11. I'm kinda thirsty. I wonder if it's gauche to buy soda at this time of the morning. Probably not.

Is it bad manners to drink a soda instead of coffee in the morning?

Ahhh, who cares? It's not like I have a problem with this stuff, really. It is kind of refreshing, in an odd sort of way. I just gotta have it, that's all.

That's all.

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