Precious Dark Fluids

Jun. 4 - I've mentioned I was in Germany part of last week. The trip got me thinking about something that's been simmering on the back-burner of my mind, if you'll forgive a really awkward metaphor, ever since I arrived in Europe.

It all has to do with a certain dark liquid that, although fairly cheap in the states, is the raw commodity behind billions and billions of dollars of economic activity throughout the developed world. Because it's so affordable in the states, I never realized how much I'd come to depend on it. Like everything else, however, it's a lot more expensive in Europe—about three or four times the price per liter. My awareness of things tends to increase in direct proportion to the damage they inflict on my wallet, so I've definitely been paying a lot more attention to how much Diet Pepsi I drink.

If you think soft drinks are a soft subject, check it out: annual soft drink sales in the United States exceeded $60 billion in 2000, most of it for Coke and Pepsi products. The average American—that elusive creature!—drinks more than 53 gallons of soft drinks per year, and even global soft drink consumption exceeds 7.7 gallons per capita annually (most of which is probably measured in liters, but never mind that).

Within the United States, $600 million was spent on advertising soft drinks in the United States in the year 2000 alone, and that doesn't include other marketing or promotional expenses.

When I left the states in March, I could reliably get a 2-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi—preferably Twist—for 99 cents at the Stop & Shop on Northern Boulevard. A gas station down the street (right, the one on the corner of Steinway) was selling self-serve unleaded gasoline for about $1.72 per gallon. A gallon is about 3.8 liters, so, according to my calculations, a gallon of Diet Pepsi would cost about 16 cents more than a gallon of gas. If you really think the recent war was about stable petroleum prices, what in the name of God do you think our government would do in the name of stable soft drink prices... ?

[Here's an interesting reference if you're interested in more information. It's where I found most of mine. I realize they're hostile to the industry, but I'm not going to worry too much about the reliability of my sources—it's not like I'm writing for the Times.]

In Denmark, a 1.5-litre bottle of Diet Pepsi picked up at 7-Eleven or the neighborhood kiosk costs a cool 24 kroner. That was about $3.50 when I moved here, but it's getting closer to $4 every day. And it's not even Diet Pepsi—in a curious inversion of marketing, it's "Pepsi Max," and the Twist option isn't even available.

At grocery stores you can get the same size bottle for about 17 or 18 kroner—currently about $2.75. The generic diet cola, a battery-acid flavored brown fizz produced by Harboe, runs about $1.35 (7-9 kroner) and is only available in grocery stores.

The Danish sales tax of 25% and the hefty bottle deposit, however, are not included in those grocery store prices.

In Germany they sell a product called Pepsi Light, which has nothing to do with the old Pepsi Light product they used to sell in the states. It actually tastes like normal Diet Pepsi, whereas the Danish Pepsi Max tastes more like the American Pepsi One, which I can't stand. Not only does the German variety taste better—it's a lot cheaper. I probably spent as much on Pepsi Light as I did on beer in Germany, which is saying something.

But it wasn't enough just drinking it there—I wanted to bring some home. In the beautiful little harbor town of Flensburg, on the German side of the Danish border, there's a store called Kay Uwe Jensen's. Kay Uwe's sort of like the Crazy Eddie of border bargains for Danes, many of whom swoop down into Flensburg now and then to stock up on things that are cheaper in Germany than in Denmark (including, thanks to Danish taxation laws, Carlsberg Beer, which is brewed all of a kilometer from where I'm sitting). It's the equivalent of Southern Californians cruising down to Tijuana for an afternoon's shopping.

I bought four cases of Pepsi Light and a case of Carlsberg at Kay Uwe's, as well as some Jim Beam and Pitu (the Brazilian liquor you use to make those limey Brazilian Margaritas). The DMB made me promise to ration the Diet Pepsi, but I've gone through nearly a case since Friday and am already wondering when we'll be able to get back to Flensburg.

If that's not a cry for help, I don't know what is.

Mysterious Men with Rocks

The Freemasons were officially founded in London on this date in 1717.

The Freemasons are not a secret society of assassins. They do not have Cesar Borgia's head preserved in an urn. They were not responsible for the French Revolution. They did not kidnap Anastasia Romanov. They are not in control of the Hale-Bopp comet. They did not invent horseradish.

They were masters of masonry, however, and they ushered in a golden age of making things out of rocks.

Freemasons first appeared in England and Scotland in the 1300s, not long after the first appearance of the Loch Ness monster but well before the advent of crop circles. Most laborers of the era were villains and therefore prohibited from travel; since most stone masonry projects (such as cathedrals, churches, and big piles of rocks) required specialized training and large numbers of workers, however, stone masons were permitted to travel freely. They became known as freemasons; their curious lunchboxes came to be known as mason jars.

Whenever the freemasons arrived in town to start work on a new project, they set up a common area where they could meet one another, receive their pay, get food, train apprentices, rest, and get roaring drunk. These came to be known as lodges.

As the centuries passed, the freemasons did less and less work with rocks and more and more drinking at lodges. Today, the freemasons are a friendly social organization with a secret handshake, and are therefore believed to be responsible for selling out the governments of the world to an invading extraterrestrial army.

Dr. Ruth turns 75 today. She shares her birthday with Dennis Weaver (1924) and England's King George III (1738).

It's Flag Day in Panama and Emancipation Day in Tonga.

(nb. The capital of Tonga, which enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the world, is Nuku'alofa. It's interesting to speculate what a less literate people might have called their capital.)

Happy Wednesday!

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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