Monday, November 28, 2011
Arriving in the Quad Cities as an Augie freshman in 1988, I've witnessed the demise of some truly iconic Rock Island businesses. I can't grab a burger at the 7th Ave. Porkie's or bowl a frame at Town & Country. I can't go rent a movie at Hilltop Video... or Hogan's Video for that matter. I can't go talk music with Dave Harrington at the 14th Ave. Co-Op Records, and I can't go back to work for Mike King at Co-Op of the District. If I wanted to relive my days of all-campus parties at the Rock Island F.O.E., I'd be in the parking lot of a funeral home – and if I wanted to nurse all these sad memories over an adult beverage at Lee's, the clerk at Auto Zone would be REALLY confused. As much as I like to fight the good fight, the times continue to a-change.
That's why I bristled at first when I found out yet another local institution was losing its identity. I remember seeing the sign when I came up to tour Augustana as a high-schooler and turning to my mom: “Ha! They have a gas station called Mother Hubbard's Cupboard.” Back then, I had no idea that Ma Hubbard had MANY a Cupboard throughout the Quad Cities -- but that's all changed now. Earlier this year, Old Mother Hubbard handed off the keys to her Cupboards to the big boss daddy of incorporated convenience: 7-Eleven.
When I was a kid, we had a couple of 7-Elevens in my hometown for a while, but they were in what my parents used to call “the bad part of town,” so we never stopped. Still, the non-stop ads for 7-Eleven in print and on TV made the company feel like a distant pen-pal that I've finally been given the chance to meet. With that understanding, though, comes an embarassing admission.
As a result of growing up sheltered from the alluring neon of 24-hour convenience stores, there's one thing I've never tried in all my 40 years... and since it's the product most often associated with the 7-Eleven franchise, I can't very well write this column without giving it a go.
My name's Shane... and I'm a Slurpee virgin. (I swear that sentence didn't sound nearly as Cinemax-y in my head as it does on paper.)
How I managed to make it through forty years without succumbing to the temptation of nearly-frozen sugar-water is beyond me. You don't need science to tell you that cold plus sweet equals awesome. I think I was just intimidated by the big swirling machine that I'd never used before. What if I hit the wrong button and Slurpee nectar went flying about the store willy-nilly? People would point and laugh and go, “Look at the 40-year-old weirdo who's clearly never had a Slurpee in his life.”
Well, a funny thing happens when you tell the local 7-Eleven PR rep that you've never had a Slurpee before. What happens, if you're wondering, is that you're pushed in front of a Slurpee machine while photographers gather around to take images of your first ever Slurpee, which in turn causes people to point and laugh and go, “Look at the 40-year-old weirdo getting his picture taken with Slurpees!” The end result is bad for social anxiety yet heaven for the taste buds.
I have officially Slurped. And, honestly, I even went back later after the photo shoot and Slurped again. These things are GOOD. And the way I figure it, they must be good for you, too. Think about it: If you're suffering from dehydration and go to the hospital, what happens? They hook you up to a glucose drip, which is essentially sugar and water. Slurpees are, essentially, sugar and water. That makes Slurpees MEDICINE in my book, and if you're gonna take medicine, it might as well be wild cherry flavored, no?
Thanks to the folks at 7-Eleven, I've been learning LOTS about Slurpees. Did you know they were accidentally invented by a guy named Omar Knedlik? When the soda fountain broke at his hamburger stand, his only way to serve cold drinks was to stick sodas in his deep freeze. It turns out his customers preferred the slushy, half-frozen sodas to normal fountain pop. 7-Eleven bought into the idea in the mid-60's and the Slurpee was born. Nowadays, those swirly machines keep the Slurpee at exactly 28 degrees – the perfect temperature to maintain its sherbet-like consistency.
Today, the Slurpee is a household name. Thirteen million of the suckers are sold and Slurped every month. While I was standing in the Rock Island store for my photo shoot, customers were literally pushing me out of the way to get to the machine – and I witnessed nothing less than master Slurpee chefs, mixing and matching varieties for triple and quadruple-flavored brainfreezes. 7-Eleven even sells divided cups that let you sample multiple varieties with a straw capable of Slurping two flavors at once.
“It's a brand that connects with people in an emotional way,” explains Laura Gordon. She's 7-Eleven's Senior Director of Proprietary Beverages, which I'm pretty sure means she's built a career around playing with Slurpees. “Slurpee brings out the kid in all of us.”
There's a town in Washington called Kennewick that relishes its fame as the world's leader in Slurpee sales. The local 7-Eleven there claims it was all due to their local high school football team hanging out in the store and downing Slurpees like oxygen. 7-Eleven responded with freebies, t-shirts, and even launching new and exclusive flavors in Kennewick. A newspaper in nearby Winnepeg reported on the claim to fame with the headline, “Kennewick Sucks!”
My proposal, Quad Cities, is this: Let's take Kennewick's crown away. Some towns are best at commerce, other towns are best at tourism. Let's become the town that's best at sucking. It would certainly give THIS writer some good future column fodder.
Times change. People and businesses come and go, and what we're left with are fond memories of the past and hope for the future. It sounds like 7-Eleven's here to stay, and I'm all for it. My hope is that we become the future Slurpee capital of the world. With lots of work, dedication, and a whole lot of brainfreezes, I'm pretty sure that if we all come together, the Quad Cities can officially and definitively suck harder than ever (in a good way.)