Oh, don’t look at me like that. You knew it was coming.
And yes, I actually am thankful for Coke Zero, which is in my opinion the only diet cola that doesn’t completely taste of ass, and that includes Diet Coke. Which in fact is not made from the Coke formula at all: It’s the last remaining vestige of the “New Coke” formula, reviled by the masses at its introduction in the 80s and quickly hounded off the shelves. Actually, if my understanding is correct, it’s New Coke that is a variant of the Diet Coke formula, since the diet version was released in 1982, and New Coke was unleashed in 1985. Either way, it sucks and it’s not Coke.
Which sucked for me when I hit my late 20s and my previously fast-burning metabolism slowed down considerably and then all the calories from the regular coke I was drinking decided to stick around in a doughy mass in my mid-section. If I wanted to keep drinking soda (which I did) and not roll down the hall (which I did not), I would have to switch to diet variants. And thus I was confronted with Diet Coke, which I was not happy with. There are other diet colas as well, of course, but all of them suffer from the same problem, namely, they don’t actually taste like Coca-Cola, which is my preferred cola experience. Yes, this is very much a first world problem. Please shut up now.
But then the Coca-Cola Company, in its wisdom, decided to make Coke Zero, and they did so for a very particular reason, which is that American men are fat but don’t like to be seen drinking a soda that has the word “diet” in it, because they think that makes them look like they’re concerned about their weight, and that’s girly. So they made a diet cola without the word “diet” in it and pushed their marketing at men, and since they couldn’t just rebrand Diet Coke and get away with it, they made this new stealth-diet soda with the original Coke formula.
Personally, I couldn’t give a crap about the whole “men don’t want to be seen with diet sodas” thing — I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity that being seen with a diet pop isn’t going to make my testosterone levels drop, and anyway, what do I have to hide? Why yes, I’ll get fat if I drink a lot of sugared sodas. I’m a middle aged man. The rest of my life will be a struggle not to just throw up my hands, say “oh, fuck it,” and start working on my Santa Claus impression. I know this about myself. I’m not particularly concerned if you know it too. Because you already do know this. Now none of us have to pretend at a polite fiction.
What I was interested in, however, was the fact Coke Zero was using the original formula. Could this finally be the answer to my diet cola prayers? When it arrived in my local store, I bought a 20-ounce bottle, went outside, cracked it open and swigged some back. Then I marched right back into the store and instantly bought four 12-packs of the stuff. Because, to borrow a catch phrase, Coke Zero was it. The magical dusky brown zero-calorie elixir I was looking for. Thank you, all you insecure pudgy men of America, for being enough of a marketable demographic that I got a tolerable diet cola in my lifetime.
Which is not to say, perhaps contrary to popular conception, that I think Coke Zero is the Best Liquid Ever. I do drink other things, you know — including things that are not sweet and carbonated — and I do keep an eye on my consumption of it. I also don’t confuse drinking Coke Zero with something that’s healthy; I mean, it may be marginally healthier for me than sucking down sugared sodas, but this is a strictly relative thing. I remember not too long ago Coke started touting the hydration benefits of Coke Zero on its 12-pack containers, which I thought was pretty ridiculous. If you want to hydrate, drink water, please. It’s better for you.
So: Not the best liquid ever. But best diet cola ever? Easily. Which is why I drink it. I do find it amusing how much it is associated with me at this point — when I go to appearances, for example, it’s even money that someone in the audience will come up with a bottle of Coke Zero they brought for me, which I actually do appreciate. And of course there was that time when the CapriCon convention gave me my weight in Coke Zero; it was a good thing I drove to that convention rather than flew to it. I would not have liked trying to get that all on the plane.
So for being delicious, non-fattening and an amusing and yet thankfully innocuous part of my public persona, I thank you, Coke Zero, for existing. And now I will drink you. Yes.