Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coca-Cola Secret Formula Vault

I've been thinking about all the places I want to go see and experience once we're able to travel again, and also taking time to reflect on the highlights of some previous trips, like Atlanta. (The piece below was previously published on Atlas Obscura. You can see it here.)

One of corporate America's best-kept secrets is also one of the most publicly displayed. 

As far as trade secrets and intellectual property go, it’s hard to think of a better-known example than the formula upon which Asa Griggs Candler made his fizzy fortune. In 1888, Candler bought the Coca-Cola brand and formula from pharmacist John Stith Pemberton and launched what has become the largest beverage company in the world.

While the formula itself is kept safe, the safe that holds the original written recipe is displayed prominently within Atlanta’s World of Coca-Cola museum. The formula was moved from its former location at SunTrust Bank in downtown Atlanta as the capstone to the company’s 125th anniversary.

The formula, which passed from Pemberton to Candler to Ernest Woodruff and a group of investors, wasn’t committed to paper until 1919 when it was used as collateral for the loan that Woodruff and his colleagues secured for the purchase of the company. The formula remained in a vault in the Guaranty Bank in New York until the loan was repaid in 1925, at which point it was moved to the Trust Company Bank (now SunTrust). The current vault is the central part of an exhibit within the museum. To be clear, visitors are welcome to view the vault, but you won’t be able to see the formula itself unless you buy the company.

The museum is home to a number of other exhibits on topics ranging from the history of the company to the now largely-automated bottling process. Visitors can also have their pictures taken with the brand’s polar bear mascot and sample various Coke-owned beverages from around the world, including Fanta Melon Frosty (popular in Japan and Thailand) and Brazil’s GuaranĂ¡ Kuat, in the tasting room on the second floor.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Laughter in the Dark

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Like others all over the world right now, my wife and dog and I are all weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, with varying degrees of success. For Tinker Bell it’s probably the easiest – she is overjoyed that not one but now both of her human servants are at her beck and call all day. For me it’s essentially not much different than most of my days over the past decade. I have worked as a writer and contractor from my home office for the better part of 10 years now – it’s strange only in that I now see my wife, friends and family working through the same disorientation and disconnection that I felt at first.

“Don’t worry,” I tell them. “In my experience it gets much easier after the first three years.”

Maybe they chuckle, or grimace. They know that my sense of humor runs dark. But in times such as these, I believe that humor (however twisted) is perhaps the best tool at my disposal for managing that which I cannot control or make sense of.

We’ve all got our ways of dealing with things, from meditation and yoga to alcohol or escaping to other worlds through the portals of books, films and video games. It’s more than understandable… it is quintessentially human. Wars, plagues, disasters of all sorts, force us to confront how very little we really control. They reveal how flimsy a defense our wealth, our military might, and our scientific advancements really are. It forces us to confront our mortality on a prolonged and collective basis. And that can be upsetting, terrifying in fact. How are we to manage, confined to our homes like prisoners with our fear and uncertainty as an unwelcome cellmate?

If we are to be prisoners though, it does not exempt us from making our choices, even if there are far fewer of them than we might wish. My choice is to laugh, and in doing so I spite the anxiety and terror of all this is unknown to me. I do so knowing full well that my laughter is just a very tiny candle with which I am trying to hold back the infinite darkness. And I know that the inevitable outcome of that battle, between light and lightlessness, is a foregone conclusion. But I’m not focused on winning some battle that can’t be won. I’m interested in making bearable, in making meaningful, whatever time I have. 

And so I hope to share this small light with you, that it may momentarily tame if not dispel your fears. Let’s cast clumsy shadow puppets together. Let’s crack stupid jokes, make artworks out of the contents of our canned food and let loose our defiant, awkward, loveable snorts and bellows and guffaws against the silence. Because for however long we can ward off the darkness with our small, flickering lights, I believe it is worth doing.