Remember that game where kids would knock on a stranger’s door and leave a flaming lunch bag of shit on a doorstep? Well, I did that with hugs and kisses and a bottle of Crystal Pepsi.
Let me set the stage. I was in 2nd grade when Crystal Pepsi came out. I loved the stuff. Like Pogs and the O.J. Simpson trial, clear cola was an icon of its time. Moms bought it as a treat. It paired well with a side of P.B. Crisps or Dunkaroos. Drinking Crystal made me feel part of the Pepsi Generation.
A college buddy of mine named Adam was the master of ‘90s nostalgia. Adam was the guy with the ponytail and Birkenstocks who sang “Blues Traveler” at karaoke. Our mutual love of ‘90s shiz joined us at the hip. Adam had a cassette tape of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ live musical tour, Comin’ Out of Their Shells, in his glove compartment. He also owned more weed paraphernalia than books. He was the first one to ever smoke me up.
I’m in my living room, charging up my Pax vaporizer. It was a recent life upgrade from a wooden one-hitter I called “Li’l Dancin’ Man.” I have a fresh batch of Blueberry OG, a strain that does wonders for my anxiety.
I discovered Blueberry OG when Adam and I smoked it on the football field of our alma mater a few years ago. It was a peacemaking mission: I had gotten in a fight with his girlfriend, and I wanted to apologize for my behavior. We huddled around Li’l’ Dancin’ Man, sparked a lighter, and Blueberry OG sent us on a journey singing old Fastball songs and stalking deer in Schenley Park.
Here’s the honest truth: Since that day, I’ve completely lost faith in my social support system. I haven’t been close with Adam, or any of my friends back then, in years. They’re strangers to me now, and it bothers me to my core. So when I see that ‘90s shit on TV, I feel overwhelmed. I jump out of my body, and all I see is a kid sitting on the couch, watching cartoons in his underwear. Adam and his girlfriend have since bought a nice house in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh. They really have their shit together. Me? I’m fine. I’m still in my underwear watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m fine.
Then there’s this one day that I see Crystal Pepsi in my Instagram feed. I’m stuck to the couch, and all I can think is: It’s back, baby! The inner kid in me goes nuts: I immediately have to have the Crystal. And just thinking about the Pepsi makes me think of Adam. Where the hell do I get it? Of course there’s a product locator on Pepsi.com. I look at the map — the closest available stock is at a Speedway gas station a few miles away, in Squirrel Hill.
Luckily, I’m not too stoned to fire off the couch and make my ‘90s dreams come true. I jam the Pax in its kit and start for the door.
It’s 5:30 pm on a Tuesday, and the only route is the Parkway. Oh shnikies. Deal with angry yinzers on wheels… but get the Crystal Pepsi. Lose two hours of my day… or no Crystal Pepsi. I dash out the door, hop in my Dodge Caravan, and peel out.
Inside the Speedway, my heart stops: the soda case holds rows and rows of brown colas. I walk hesitantly up to the cooler, like Indiana Jones approaching the golden idol. Way in the back are four glowing 20-ounce bottles of Crystal Pepsi. Just seeing the bottles made memories flicker to life in my head: Suddenly, Adam and I are back on the football field, stalking deer. I grab all four and hoof it to the checkout counter, cradling them in my arms.
I escape in the Caravan and turn onto a back road through Squirrel Hill — where Adam lives. Another hit of the Pax, and I crack open a bottle and take a swig. It’s sweet. It was sticky. The memories are intense — just one taste of the Pepsi makes me remember him. When did he leave it all — me? — behind?
I came all the way to Squirrel Hill for this, and now I’m sitting in the car drinking Crystal Pepsi. I’m here. I’m on Adam’s street. I didn’t even have to look for directions — it’s like I rode Crystal-laced memories here. I pull up next to a linden tree across the block from his house and park, alternating between sips of the Pax and the Pep’. Without thinking, I pull a second bottle from the Speedway bag and get out of the van.
As I approach Adam’s house, I eye the window for any signs of life. I see shadows moving. It’s Adam. I see him. The Crystal Pepsi gets heavy in my hand. I duck out of view and set the Pepsi down. Using the pen and Moleskine in my back pocket, I scrawl a note, “XOXO - Tys.” I slip it under the bottle. I ring the doorbell and run to my car.
From the car, I watch Adam come out of the house. He sees the Crystal Pepsi below him, and smiles. He reaches for the note, and I watch as he reads it.
Sure, all of us in the Pepsi Generation have grown up and our tastes have changed. But keeping the bottle on display is like hoarding slap bracelets or Swamp Thing action figures: Nostalgia is a collector’s item that makes us remember who our friends were. Crystal Pepsi, for a few moments that day, was a time-traveling thing that connected us. Adam and I have had our ups and downs, but ‘90s nostalgia has always, and maybe will always, connected us in some weird, sugary way.
Adam heads back into his house, smiling as he goes. I start the car and pull away. I’m fine.