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Of Soda in the Desert

From correspondence with my online pen-pal David of PlanetSoma and OtherStream fame after the piece on Corner Stores and Teem:

I remember drinking Teem from the vending machines at motels. That was the only place I ever saw the stuff. My house was all about RC Cola and Wink (Safeway Grapefriut Soda is my current approximation thereof), with occasional splurges for Tahitian Treat.

You know, there's a whole culture around sodas that have died painful deaths. Or maybe it's just me...

My brother and I were driving last weekend out in the Shenandoahs and ran across a little country store that had a rusted sign for Teem sitting outside--obviously hadn't been touched in 20-30 years. As we started talking about it, and the cheesy commercials we'd see in Peru for the stuff, we remembered a perennial feature of the dusty Peruvian coastal landscape: the LuLu sign.

LuLu was a Peruvian soda (don't know if it was ever a world-wide brand)--that came in two flavors (I think only two), strawberry and pineapple. We moved to the country in 1980, and given my dad's affinity for endless road trips for the six of us in a 1980 Chevy Malibu (including in the mix were a pair of toddler twins, me as a 7-year-old, my 12-year old brother, the maid-who-had-moved-to-the-city-escaping-terrorists-in-the-mountains, mom and dad) we soon learned about these pieces of Peruviana. Every 10 kilometers or so (sometimes closer together, sometimes very sparsely placed) on the Panamerican highway for much the extent of the Peruvian coastline there were signs for the stuff--either black or red, they were shaped like a heart, with Lulu and nothing else written in huge cursive letters in the middle, the heart fringed with a lacy decoration that could have either been a doily of the sort that fits under a cake (making the whole thing look like a giant box of valentine's day chocolates) or a local version of a french chambermaid's garter belt.

The signs, having weathered maybe 2 decades of sea breezes, were usually rusted, twisted from their car-visible 90-degree orientation into all sorts of eccentric positions, their two (no more, no fewer) anchor posts of cheap construction wood usually akimbo. They were many times buried by piles of desert sand, but still resilient to their onslaught. They could be found at the top of the rocky and dusty hills that surround Lima, in places where one would really never see them unless one were climbing up there to see them in the first place. They were occasionally sitting atop buildings in cities and towns, and when they were there they were always rustier and more disheveled than the ones on the roads. And unlike the Coca Cola and Pepsi signs, which are omnipresent in developing nations because these companies figured out that they'd get free advertising if they just offered to give people signage for their stores and restaurants, there were never any Lulu signs outside of stores or restaurants, roadside diners or dives where one could get fried fish or pork rinds. Always along the road, on top of rocky mountaintops, or on aging buildings.

Funny thing is, I never saw a bottle of the stuff until I think the late 1980s--it couldn't be found anywhere until they resurrected the pineapple flavor. They signs were still there, rusty hearts for the beach-bound traveler, but damned if you could find it.

I'm aching to find a picture of one of these somewhere... it's such an indelible image-- show a picture of it to any Peruvian who has spent some time in the coast (about 75% of the population by current count) and they'll immediately recognize it as home.

[ED: Many years later, I found this blog with an extensive taxonomy of Peruvian soda bottles. Joy to my heart.]

A woman I know in Detroit just emailed me asking about places she should wander i Baltimore. Keep in mind that (a) she's from Detroit and (b) she likes it there which is (c) why I like her. Any recommendations?

Well, three our four blocks west/north/east from Disneyland--i mean, the Inner Harbor-- the city actually begins to show its more interesting face. There's plenty of wander potential--it's a real city. Unfortunately, my familiarity with Balto is limited, as the only time I've actually done aimless roaming around the city was in a car later than not at night--poor situation for bearings. Theres a museum of industrial history in town--sounds like an interesting place to go--[UPDATE JANUARY 2001: and a vary cool museum on the south end of the harbor called the American Visionary Arts Museum]. There's much grit closer to the railways. Depending on the flavor of neighborhood she's looking for, she can find slowly gentrifying areas east of the inner harbor (Fells Point, Little Italy), abandoned warehouse-ish places near Rt 1., working class-ish Italian and greek neighborhoods...

So, I suppose that I could tell her that if she's looking for urban "renewal" (i.e. Sell Our Soul To Chain Behemoths) she can find that, and if she's looking for grit, she'll find that too, but as for bearings--I won't be much help there.