I’m not sure if you noticed, but yesterday was Election Day. Depending on who you bet on, today either feels like the beginning of something good or you expect one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride into town just after lunch.
I learned very early in life not to expect a lot of change from these shifts in political power.
Picture it: Kentucky. 1980. A ten-old boy full of hopes and dreams.
I woke up the morning after Ronald Reagan won the Presidential election with an excitement usually reserved for Christmas morning or my own birthday. I’d concluded by listening to my parents talk at dinner while watching the evening news that the price of everything we bought had been too high for way too long. In the world of a ten-year old boy in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, that meant my weekly allowance didn’t buy much at the Magic Mart or Ben Franklin’s on my family’s weekend shopping outing.
The proof of this inflation, though, had hit home a few months earlier, in September, when the laundromat located just down the street from my house raised the price of their Coca-Cola vending machine from a quarter to thirty-cents. I was outraged. A quarter was one thing, but now having to scrape up a nickel as well for a can of Coke? It was too much for me. Something had to be done, and from what I could gather, Ronald Reagan was the man to do it. According to my parents, and apparently most of the nation that year, he was going to usher in good times and lower prices for us all.
So, on Wednesday, November 5, 1980, the day after Reagan swept the country in his bid to be President, I headed to the laundromat to see democracy and free trade in action. I was stunned to find the Coca-Cola machine still operating with a thirty-cent charge. Had no one told the manager of this place about the election? Maybe Coca-Cola had been for the other guy and was now refusing to lower the price of their product. I noticed Pepsi had not increased its price, yet. They were still selling that swill for a quarter. I contemplated my life as a Pepsi drinker, and to be honest, it was bleak. I watched other people causally walk over to the Coke machine, feed it both a quarter AND a nickel, and walk away with a beverage as if Ronald Reagan had not just won and immediately promised us all lower Coca-Cola prices.
I stormed out of the obviously Communist-led laundromat in a huff. I stomped to my mother’s office and told her the news. I wanted her to share in my outrage and disgust. I wanted her to call the newspaper and demand a story be written. I wanted her to get Ronald Reagan down here immediately, if not sooner.
She tried to explain to me that just because a particular candidate says something while he is campaigning for office, does not mean that it always comes true. There are often obstacles to overcome and new laws to be written. Lots of people have to learn to work together again and this takes time. Though Reagan had promised to help the economy, he had only won the election last night. He wasn’t even President yet, and wouldn’t be for a couple more months. Even then, there was no guarantee that the price of Coke would ever dip below thirty-cents again, and at thirty-cents it was still a pretty good bargain.
What I heard from that little civics lesson: Reagan hadn’t taken office yet. This would be fixed in a couple of months.
The price of Coca-Cola never returned to a quarter. The letter I wrote to President Reagan fell on deaf ears. My grassroots campaign, “Citizens for Lower Pop Prices,” never took off. It was my first experience in being disappointed by a politician. It would not, by a long shot, be the last, but I didn’t know that then. I decided to make the best of the situation. I certainly wasn’t going to become a Pepsi drinker. I loved Coca-Cola and would stick with it no matter what. It was my drink.
Sometimes you don’t always get what you want, but you learn to live with it and make the most of it.
My relationship with both Coca-Cola and President Reagan smoothed out over the years. I learned to live with them both in my life, and things were not nearly as bad as I had first imagined they would be. The Earth did not stop turning, and I adjusted to the new reality of living in a thirty-cent Coca-Cola world.
It wasn’t until Reagan’s second term that Coca-Cola decided to come out with New Coke and all Hell truly broke loose. But, I am not going there today. The wounds are still too deep.