Columnist launches ‘soda-free month’ — instantly regrets it

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On the morning of Aug. 1, a mediocre and marginally known columnist and novelist decided that it was time to launch his personal “soda-free month” to clear mind and body. There would be absolutely no icy-fountain drinks, ice-cold bottles at his favorite gas station or chilled glasses at the local pizza joint. “What a great idea!” he thought.

Even better, he decided to include his other liquid favorites ranging from Gatorades to lemonades to that ultra-tasty Vitamin Water.

Then, on the evening of Aug. 1, this mediocre and marginally known columnist and novelist realized he’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. He’d morphed from Jason Fletcher Wright to Jason Horribly Wrong.

Such sweet serendipity: It was the worst idea since 1985’s New Coke.

The goal is hardly new. In years’ past I’ve gone long stretches without soda occupying a spot in my food pyramid. Once, back in the 1990s, to both lose weight and test myself, I went a full year without a drop of soda. As a reminder, I even framed my last can and hung it on the wall.

That, however, was before writing deadlines, iron-fisted newspaper editors, contract pressures, extensive travel and four energetic children that have the special ability to make me think I have 12.

To those of you who don’t care for soda or sugary drinks, the idea of giving them up for a month doesn’t sound like much. But to those for whom soda has been a loyal ally for much of your lives, bidding farewell for a month is like watching your best friend disappear in the rear-view mirror of the family station wagon. “I’ll write you every day!”

We should carefully avoid hyperbole — especially given the sensitive nature of this topic — but for some of us, giving up soda for a month would be like climbing Mount Everest without a tent, or oxygen, wearing a swimsuit.

I can’t explain my love affair with carbonated drinks. I came into this world drinking everything from ginger ale to homemade root beer. I’d have to ask her, but I think my mother’s obstetrician was Dr. Pepper.

In Mexico I loved Jarritos and in Brazil I became a rabid fan of Guarana. In Germany I drank Spezi. In Japan I tried Ramune Soda in its odd bottle sealed with a marble — delicious! In Thailand I drank their version of grape Fanta — not so much.

While visiting Peru I was introduced to Inca Kola, the drink that joyously tastes like bubble gum. Just last month I dropped into a tiny local Latino market to buy a can.

If it comes in a bottle, and isn’t alcoholic, I’ve probably tried it. And if I’m under stress, I’ve probably tried it twice.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

Since launching my soda-free month, I’ve avoided convenience- and grocery-store coolers at all costs. But while walking past the shiny fountain drink dispenser the other day, my knees nearly buckled. And guess who got a phone call last Friday when PepsiCo, Inc. stock took a dip?

For years I’ve used this delicious vice to work through long writing sessions, brutal travel schedules or to survive meetings with agents, lawyers or publishers. What if instead of being a crutch to lean on, soda and her chemical cousins have become a fog to see through?

I think I already know the answer. I’m barely a week into “soda-free” month, and because I’m drinking more water than ever, I already feel lighter on my feet.

Imagine that.

I’m not suggesting I’m done drinking my favorite sodas or flavored waters forever, but I am convinced that taking a vacation for a month will be good for my mind, body and creativity.

When the month comes to an end, I’ll celebrate the accomplishment with 32-ounces of icy heaven. Then, when I sit back down to write again, maybe my first word on the page ought to be “moderation.”

Now that’s actually a pretty good idea.

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