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Thanks, Cook County, for turning us into soda nut-cases

Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Daily Southtown
by Donna Vickroy

Ten 24-packs of cans, 10 two-liter bottles, 10 six-packs of smaller bottles.

And counting.

The basement is looking like the supply room for a high school sporting event.

Let me take a break from my stockpile mission to remind, "What goes around absolutely comes around."

We are not the people who drive to Indiana to get cheaper gas, although I will admit my husband knows at any given moment where the cheapest gas is being sold in the Chicago metropolitan area.

We are not the folks who wait in the long left turn lane to get into the Tinley Park tobacco shops that border Cook and Will counties.

We are, in fact, the people who roll our eyes at the people who go to such extremes to save a few pennies.

Silly, silly, silly. Or so we always thought.

Until it hit home. When Cook County announced a new beverage tax on sweetened drinks, syrups and powders, which goes into effect Saturday and that oddly enough includes artificially sweetened beverages, such as Diet Pepsi, the tax battle became personal.

We weren't exactly overcome with outrage when the penny-an-ounce fee was announced. We understand the county's financial mess. We get that avenues of revenue are nearly tapped out. We know something has to be done, sacrifices have to be made.

And we certainly understand the obesity crisis in the country and how sugary soft drinks may have contributed.

But even people who believe in paying their fair share of income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, have their limit.

A tax on sweetened beverages suddenly puts soda in the same category as cigarettes and liquor, making it a shameful indulgence.

Besides, we're moderate soda drinkers — we've never even had a Big Gulp.

Over the past few months, as the slow drip of aggravation escalated into a gush of fed-up-ness, my husband began to take matters into his own shopping cart.

"We need to stock up," he said.

For weeks, he's been throwing extra six-packs of Coke Zero or liter bottles of Fresca and Diet 7Up into the basket.

"But we don't like Diet 7Up," I said, casually.

"We might change our minds one day," he said.

Suddenly, we were spending more time in the soda aisle than at the deli counter, which is saying something, as he began to notice varieties of soft drinks he'd never before knew existed.

Dog n Suds root beer is back.

Stewart's Orange and Cream.

Reed's Inc. Extra Ginger Brew All Natural Jamaican Style Ginger Beer.

"Might as well try them while we can," he said, loading single bottles into the basket.

I, too, began experimenting. San Pelligrino Limonata? Italian grapefruit soda? Why not? They'll never be this cheap again.

I began to wonder if the county's new tax wasn't making hoarders out of us.

We don't smoke. We don't gamble, unless we go to Vegas and even then, our loss limit is 20 bucks. We've never bought fireworks. Our typical alcohol intake is a couple of beers or a glass of wine on Friday night.

Must they hit our sole indulgence? Must we be included on the list of shameful taxpayers.

I realize we are somewhat of a dull couple in the sense that soda is our vice of choice.

I suppose we fit the definition of addicts, though, judging by the escalating feelings of desperation, although we don't really struggle with tolerance issues. Most days, a single serving suffices. But we have been known to lose control and throw back three, even four at baseball games, backyard barbecues and on long car drives.

Our typical is one 12-ouncer with lunch. But since the beverage tax was made public, we've been, ahem, guzzling. Soda with breakfast. Soda with dinner. Soda just because it's duty free.

It's a weird psychology.

Kind of like the quarter syndrome at Aldi's. You need a quarter to use a cart at the discount grocery store. But you get that 25-cent piece back at the end of your shopping trip if you return the cart. We have been known to push that cart through blinding snow to get that quarter back. It's a quarter. It buys basically nothing. Still, come Saturday it will cover the tax on 25 ounces of Squirt.

It probably fuels the flames that our typical soda of choice is a Diet.

"It doesn't have anything in it," my husband growls. "We'll be paying more for nothing."

"We could," I suggest softly, "simply cut back."

No sooner had the words left my lips than I burped up remorse.

"I can't believe I just said that," I gasped.

I pictured pizza, taco chips, popcorn at the movies — all being washed down with — water?

Soda today, he said. "What next — coffee?"

Last weekend, while shopping at Mariano's in Orland Park, my husband said, "You know, we're going to have to start driving to Will County."

Footnote: Will County is about, oh-maybe, a mile from our house.

"It's closer than Indiana," he continued, "so we'll start shopping in Mokena or Frankfort."

"Or," I offered, "we could hijack other people's Powerball runs to Indiana – beg them to fill the trunk.

"Or," I added, "We could plan our own road trips to Indiana, pick up other people's cigarettes and lottery tickets, become vice runners."

Will County, and other surrounding counties, must be jumping for joy over Cook County's move, he says. "Send us your thirsty, your carbonation cravers, your sales tax revenue."

We finish loading our cases into the cart and wheel it to the checkout.

"Stocking up?" the clerk asks. "So, is everyone else."

Then it hits him. There could be a glass half-full angle to this predicament — an entrepreneur's dream.

"I know. We'll open a stand on the border of Cook and Will, right there on 183rd Street. Squeeze it in between all the tobacco shops. Soda-tax-free fountains," he says, rubbing his hands.

"We'll be rich. And then we can buy all the soda we want."

"OK," I say, "But first things first. Let's lay off the semantics. Everyone knows it's not called soda. It's pop."

Twitter @dvickroy

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