Pepsi Points and the Jet: A Column From 1996
They’re making a Netflix documentary series about the time in the 90s a kid tried to get a Harrier jet from Pepsi, based on a commercial the soft drink maker put out on TV. As I watched the trailer, I had a vague memory of writing a column about it at the time. I checked the archives, and, indeed, I had! Here it is, from all the way back in 1996. That’s (counts on fingers) oooooof, a long time ago.
Anyway, if you were not aware of my existence in the 90s and wonder what sort of stuff I was writing a quarter century ago, here you go. I think you can see how I went from how I was writing then to how I am writing now pretty clearly. I will say that if I were writing the same piece today I’d do that last graf differently. The 90s were a bit more sexist than today, and at the time I was happy to be dude-ish for a punchline. We live and learn.
PEPSI POINTS AND THE JET
How much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet?
The question has relevance because someone, specifically John Leonard of Lynwood, Washington, is suing PepsiCo, the makers of Pepsi. PepsiCo won’t give him the Harrier Jet that he says they said they would give him if he collected 7 million “Pepsi Points.” Pepsi Points are credits that PepsiCo gives you for consuming their brown beverage — drink enough Pepsi, and you can get various trinkets from a catalogue they provide. They’re like Green Stamps, only carbonated.
One of the ads for Pepsi Points featured a 13-year-old kid who racked up 7 million Pepsi Points and redeemed them for a vertically-launching Harrier Jet. The kid was using the Harrier Jet to commute to school, which admittedly would have had some advantages (no traffic except for the occasional, very surprised helicopter; also, coming to school equipped with Sidewinder missiles tends cut down on the amount of homework teachers are willing to assign you).
Most folks who saw this commercial showed a rather un-American lack of initiative in pursuing the 7 million Pepsi Points, but Leonard, full of the moxie that made this country great, saw a golden opportunity. After all, Harrier Jets generally go for $70 million. Oh, sure, occasionally you can get a million or two chopped off the asking price, but you usually have to be an ally of the US, and have fought a war or two on the same side as us (or be France). The average Joe, on the other hand, presuming he could even get his hands on a Harrier, would have to pay the full dealer markup — which of course doesn’t include tax, title and delivery, or things like air conditioning or a cassette stereo.
But PepsiCo, who had apparently somehow managed to acquire a Harrier Jet (presumably the Cola Wars have taken on a new and more violent aspect), were getting rid of it for a mere 7 million Pepsi Points, which aside from drinking Pepsi can be bought at 10 cents a point. That’s just $700,000, still a lot of money — it takes Bill Gates almost 12 hours to make that much off of interest! — but a fair markdown from the Harrier’s listed sticker price. Leonard got some investors, got the $700,000, and approached Pepsi for the jet. Though we can’t know exactly what the exchange was between Leonard and PepsiCo, we can assume it went something like this:
Leonard: I’m here for my jet.
PepsiCo Representative: You’re nuts.
Leonard threatened to sue to get the jet. PepsiCo responded by filing for a Declaratory Judgement — basically asking a judge to tell Leonard to take his Pepsi Points and buy a clue instead. Leonard followed through with his suit, and that’s where it stands at the moment: Leonard on one side, PepsiCo on the other, and a Harrier Jet in between.
Ignoring the reality-based issues of this suit — such as the fact that PepsiCo never had a Harrier Jet, that its commercial was clearly meant for humorous effect, and that even if Leonard some how miraculously won the suit, the Pentagon would never give him a Harrier anyway — let’s deal with the theoretical aspects. I say that PepsiCo should give Leonard the Harrier Jet — if Leonard earns his Pepsi Points the way they were meant to be earned: by drinking his way through them. Just him, without help from anyone else.
Which brings us back to our original question: how much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet? According to an Associated Press report, it’d take 16,800,000 12-ounce cans — except in August, when points are doubled. So he’d only have to drink 8,400,000 cans, presuming he could drink them all in August.
It takes about 12 seconds to drain a can of Pepsi; the limiting factor is the mouth of the can. You could speed up the process of getting the Pepsi out of the can with something like rubber tubing (a “Pepsi Bong”), but then, there’s the set-up time getting the rubber tubing in the can and into Leonard’s gullet simultaneously. 12 seconds per can is as good as it’s going to get. That’s five cans a minute, 300 cans an hour, 7200 cans a day.
Assuming that Leonard, cathetered and with a nutrient IV drip to fulfill his basic life functions, did nothing else besides drink Pepsi 24 hours a day, it would take him one thousand, one hundred sixty six days and 16 hours to drink all 8.4 million cans. By which time, obviously, August would be over. He’d have to drink another 8.4 million cans to make up the difference. All told, Leonard would have to spend about 6 years and three months of his life doing nothing but drinking Pepsi to get enough Pepsi Points for the Harrier Jet.
That’s fair. If he can do that, I say he’s earned the jet. He’ll need a couple of other things as well (for example, a new digestive tract), but if you’ve drunk that much Pepsi, you can probably tuck a couple more cans of the stuff away to cover the medical expenses. I think it’s a solution that both PepsiCo and Leonard can agree on. I called PepsiCo, to see if they might be amenable to idea: Pepsi spokesman Brad Shaw declared, “I can hardly think of a better way to spend six years than drinking Pepsi non-stop.” So, John Leonard, get cracking!
Now, there’s another Pepsi Points ad in which these guys are drinking Pepsi, and every woman around them has turned into Cindy Crawford. I recently quaffed a Pepsi, but all the women near me persisted in being themselves. I think I may have a case.