I like Diet Coke.
I don't really drink it at restaurants, and I don't really buy it for home. But every once in awhile, it hits me--that I just NEED ONE.
Normally these moments involve the presence of pizza. But late the other night, as I was stumbling through that long passageway from the A train to the N/Q line at the Times Square station, on my way home, a little bleary from the day, the feeling struck. No pizza necessary. And it struck hard...all of a sudden I felt the exasperated dehydration of a thousand days in the desert, desperately parched: O late-night subway snack kiosk, where were you??
Ah. You were actually just around the corner and under a large staircase.
I zeroed in on the kiosk drink cooler as a hawk eyes its prey from above. The cans and bottles were haphazardly strewn about the racks, as if lots of other thirsty people had recently descended upon the little fridge and ransacked its contents; a line of purple Gatorades had toppled on their sides, a once-perfect row of green Sprite bottles had been broken up and intermingled with Sierra Mist...what was going on here? I started to search for the color red...because where there was Coke, there was Diet Coke. I found red, and then silver. Victory! I grabbed a can and strutted to the register.
I put the can on the counter, and glanced down into my bag to fish out a dollar. When I looked back up with dollar in hand, I saw the shopkeeper wiping off--or rather polishing, with a special sort of care--the top of the can. He then smiled courteously and took my money, wrapped a fresh white paper napkin around the can, and handed it to me with a straw. I thanked him, and began to walk away.
That's when things started to get silly in my mind. I was about to pop the can open, but hesitated when I looked down and really took stock of what I held in my hand...was I actually about to drink a Diet Coke in this busy public space with a napkin and (even worse) a straw?
Who does that? 70-year-old wives on Golden Anniversary cruises to Acapulco do that, but do 20-something New York transplants such as myself do that? After midnight, on a subway train to Queens for crying out loud? The napkin suggested such propriety, and the straw--such occasion!! Certainly a Diet Coke on a subway ride to Queens is no cause for celebration. Cans of carbonated beverage are gulped and discarded, not enjoyed.
But as I was about to toss the straw and napkin in the garbage can, I had a change of heart.
I wrapped the napkin back in place around the can, and plunked the straw down into the brown aspartame-y water. Nope, I was going to enjoy this one.
I felt primmest of the prim on the ride home, and imagined other scenarios where women might be drinking Diet Cokes with straw and napkin...maybe at the Kentucky Derby if they were tired of mint juleps. Maybe in an upscale nursing home somewhere, over a game of Scrabble. Places where there was a touch of old-world luxury, where the situation was being savored on Sunday afternoons or Tuesday mornings. A little smile curled over my face, and suddenly I felt like a pioneer! Savoring something on the subway! A snooty strawberry blonde with an ipod gave me strange looks as I sipped, probably wondering, as I had only moments before--who does that?--but I just kept on sipping. Yeah, the subway is a place where everything is fast and faceless and frazzled...but for those few little moments I actually, and truly,