There’s a new face to your fast food fountain soda, and it’s a terrifying robot face.
If you eat as badly as I do, you’ve likely already encountered the terrifying touch-screen of the new Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. (If you’re healthy or wealthy enough to avoid fast food, just sit back and enjoy this one.)
These robo-fountains, promoting "100+ choices" of carbonation customization, are popping up left and right at (I guess) cutting-edge eateries in Austin like Elevation Burger and Jack in the Box. While you can easily pick which of those two places to avoid, you absolutely cannot escape the machine that is ruining my favorite part about eating badly: Diet Coke.
Now, I’m not one to shy away from technology. I like things with flashing lights and buttons and all the fun time-wasting options that innovation provides us through computers, telephones and space-age vehicles. But I don’t think I want it or need it on this side of the counter at my fast food establishments.
First off, the touch-screen technology of the new Freestyle soda fountain is a nightmare for anyone older than 15 years old. The first time I encountered one of these Coke-inators was at the Schlotzsky's by UT, where I watched in embarrassed horror for twenty minutes as a middle-aged executive cursed her multiple advanced degrees, which failed to prepare her for this demon machine that stood between her and her vanilla-flavored Dr. Pepper.
Luckily, an eight year old with oversized headphones and a lisp was nearby to hit the relevant buttons to get her the desired sweet stuff. (More importantly, watching his tiny wizard fingers at work was how I also learned how to use the machine so I didn’t look like some pathetic technology-shunning Luddite.)
Worse than the humiliation involved with these iPad fountains is the downgrade in the sweet delicious flavor of my beloved Diet Coke. Y’all, there’s a reason we get addicted to the stuff. And that reason is the sweet carbonated burny feeling you get from that initial hit of acidic chemical water and the accompanying tongue taste-sation of a million syrupy angels shouting 'Hallelujah!' inside your mouth.
But these dumb ol’ Freestyle machines are so busy offering you over 100 soda flavor combinations that they all end up tasting wrong. In the old days, fallible humans would hook up these machines and you could sense when something was just a tad off: too much syrup, not enough carbonation, so acidic it instantly disintegrates the enamel on your teeth. There’s nothing like seeing a soda broken down into its perfect formula of carbonated water, syrup and additional flavoring to make you realize just how poisonous this stuff really is.
What ever happened to the glory days when pimply-faced 16 year-olds incorrectly hooked up the eight-spigot soda fountain at the Burger King and caused your root beer to spill over the sides of your cup in the ultimate display of American excess and gluttony? And while we're at it: Why did gas station McDonald's soda always taste so damn good?
I say we reject these nasty soda robots that are ruining our daily soda cravings. If your local burger joint is considering one of these flavor-killing, choice-enhancing Freestyle machines, tell them you’ll take the flavor over the superfluous extra options any day. That’s the real choice.
And that, dear readers, is what fast food means to me.