Pepsi Challenged

(Photo: A tee-shirt fit for a friend who took an unexpected Pepsi Challenge…and failed.)

I’m about as non-scene as a gay man can get, but I’m not a zealot. I’d never turn down an offer of free slushy drinks at Sidetrack. Nor did I yesterday, when I found myself sandwiched between Overly Frank and J. P. Organ in the MainBar of Chicago’s mainstream ‘mo hangout on Show Tunes Sunday.

Usually when I go to Sidetrack, which is rarely, I’m stuck in the stand-and-model GlassBar (yes, each bar has an official name), dragged there by whomever dragged me up to Boystown in the first place. Sunday was the first time them that brung me wanted to hang out in the MainBar, where Show Tunes nights are taken far more seriously.

I sneered at videos from the Madonna version of Evita and yawned through the clips from …Whorehouse (I’ve never gotten that show). But I raised my voice with the rest of the bar through the numbers from Oklahoma and tossed my napkins in the air during Titanic: The Musical.

What can I say? I’m a musical-theater purist.

After one too many prurient parts of others rubbed in passing across private parts of mine, though, I felt it was time to stop getting felt up. Frank and I quit Sidetrack and headed for somewhere altogether trashier: Gay-hop, otherwise known as the International House of Pancakes at the top of the Boystown Halsted strip.

Frank wanted something fried. I wanted to see if after two years since the last time I’d eaten there they’d finally cleaned the bathrooms. As I tucked into my biscuits with sausage gravy, I remembered why I used to like the joint.

“I forgot the interesting, trailer-trash vibe this place always has,” I told Frank. “It really is a guilty pleasure of mine.”

“You mean you like it here?” Frank asked, incredulous. “After all the eight minutes of shit you gave me when I suggested it?”

No one ever said I was agreeable. Case in point, I told the ex-Oklahoman to save his much-heralded Pepsi story for the walk back to the Clark bus. As we dodged the eternal puddle in the parking lot outside on our exit, I reminded Frank he owed me a tale.

“Much like I’ll eat in an Ihop instead of a real restaurant,” Frank began, “when I was in London a few years ago, I spent a lot of time eating in fast food places instead of savoring the fine English cuisine, since as you know the U.K. is not known for its food.”

“That changed a long time ago,” I interjected.

“Well maybe when you were there,” he shot back, “but that wasn’t my experience when I was there, now shut up and let me continue my story.”

I’d have smacked him, but as he is a libertarian who voted for McCain in 2008, I contended myself in the knowledge that as long as I know him my votes will cancel out his.

“Fast food places don’t have a lot of room in London,” Frank went on. “I was in a bilevel Burger King, with the dining room squeezed in downstairs from the order counter. I ordered something I don’t remember and a large Pepsi. I really don’t know what happened. A tremor? A foot slip? But there I was walking downstairs watching my soda tumble end over end in slow motion in front of me.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“When things start to go slow motion,” Frank said, “sometimes you think you have more time to react than you do. I tried to catch the Pepsi gingerly with my tray and instead managed to turn my tray into a tennis racquet that slammed the container all the way to the bottom of the stairs, where it exploded. Everywhere.”

I’d have bet money on that.

“Mortified and being extra careful, I made my way down the rest of the stairs, retrieved the now-empty cup, and went back up to the counter to tell them what had happened. The staff was very nice about it. As female employee went to mop the stairs, the man behind the counter took the cup and said, ‘Here, let me refill that for you.’”

Personally, at this point I’d have opted for something in a sealed container.

“More careful than I have ever been in my life, I went back down the stairs and set down my tray at a table. I felt safe finally sitting, so I grabbed a straw, opened it, and poked it into the lid on top of my new Pepsi. And that’s when the sides gave way.”

I laughed out loud, picturing my straight-laced conservative friend sitting in a puddle of pop in a fast-food basement, probably doing his best not to show any outward reaction.

“The woman mopping the stairs from my first spillage just looked at me and said, ‘Having a bad day, huh?’ Turned out when the guy refilled my Pepsi, he didn’t give me a new cup. And the battered old sides of the one that went down the stairs had just about had enough poking and prodding when it saw my straw coming.”

I flashed on the likely health violation of refilling a customer’s beverage container that had recently hit the floor, but that’s not germane to the incident.

Frank’s story drew to a close. “In response to my latest embarrassment, the counter guy, himself, came downstairs with a bunch of napkins and a new, third Pepsi. I told him I’d just as soon eat my meal dry, but he insisted. He also insisted on inserting the straw for me.”

“Did you learn anything from the experience?” I asked.

“Yep,” Frank said in a drawl reminiscent of a tumbleweed suddenly graced with the miraculous power of speech. “You can’t catch a midair Pepsi with a slow-motion tray.”

There’s gotta be a country song in there somwehere.

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