Posted by: wrmcnutt | December 4, 2009

El Cheapo and Kid’s Drinks, or Why I Hate Orange Flavoring

Let us start right out by making it clear that I like oranges.  Navel, Valencia, Blood, Persian . . . I like ’em all.  But I like oranges. Not artificial orange flavoring.  It’s not even a pale imitation.  Just a vile, often gritty color put into water to fool kids into thinking they’re getting something sweet to drink, when, in fact, they’re drinking water dyed with gravel and clay dust.  Even Tang only goes down with some resentment and a wince or two, and I was a huge fan of the Space Program when I was a kid.

So why the hostility to fake orange drink?  Well, like many things knee-jerk and unreasonable, it starts in childhood, and with one’s parents.  Back in the day, there was a Union ’76 gas station at the foot of the hill where my sub-division entered the highway. It’s a used car lot, now.  Anyway, back in the day, there was a great deal of competition for customers among gas stations and petroleum companies.  This was back when gas was cheap.  (Under $0.55/gallon)  There was an illusion of brand-loyalty among petroleum companies, and they thought was that if they could get you to switch to their brand, you would stick with it, rather than dump them for the cheaper guy down the street.  Poor, deluded bastards.  This concept lead to many different marketing gimmicks.  One often lamented today is the lack of free road maps.  In my childhood, you could just walk into a gas station and get a free road map of the state.  And often the surrounding state.  In fact, one enduring commercial image from my childhood was a Texaco commercial about the great service they gave.  The 90 second plot involved the station being all out of the maps for the local state.  The problem was resolved by the ingenious attendant taping together seven maps of the surrounding states and using the little “overlap” sections to piece together a necessary map.  The gag was upped a notch when the customer got in the car and was admonished “not to forget Indiana.”

But maps weren’t the only thing you saw.  Glasses, dishes, flatware, and all manner of household goods were given away in an effort to get you turn into the local service station instead of the one down the road.  And people did move about in droves.  Whoever was offering the best premium this month was the station that got most of the business.  Well, the 76 station, there are the corner, gave away “Funny Face” drink mix, then a viable rival to “Kool Aid.”  This stuff had a number of problems.  For starters, they weren’t exactly politically correct. Worse, if you read the last link on the package, you see the words, “pre-sweetened without sugar.”  They were sweetened with cyclamates. They were vile. Then it got worse. In 1970, they gave up on artificial sweeteners, and went to a “you just add sugar” strategy.  So, would my Mom spend 15 cents on Kool Aid?  Why no, El Cheapo would save a nickle and buy “Funny Face.”  A seven-year-old couldn’t tell the difference, right?  Phbleh.  No Mom, it was not just as good.

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”″%5DBut just when you would think you couldn’t dial the suck up any higher, Union ’76 started giving them away.  Instead of saving a lousy nickle, Mom was now saving fifteen cents a quart. My choices were “Funny Face,” water, or sweet tea.  I drank a lot of sweet tea.  The problem with free vile faux Kool-Aid is that either through bad logistics or deliberate design, the Union 76 gave away 10% “Goofy Grape” and 90% “Jolly Olly Orange.”  Two packages with a fillup.  Mom and Dad each filled up once a week.  I only drank a one package of the stuff a week at the most. Mom got  way ahead of me.  So, day in, day out, I drank the Jolly Ollie Orange.  For months. You know what? The question I ask myself now is, “Why in blazes did I never even think to pour some of the awful stuff down the drain?” I don’t mean dumping it by the quart, but pouring out every other glass, or only drinking half-glasses would have saved my palate substantial abuse, and I never even considered it.

Bad enough yet?  At the end of the promotion, the bastard who managed the gas station gave Mom half a box of the stuff he had left.  You know, for being such a loyal customer.

And, of course, El Cheapo wasn’t going to buy anything different.   After all, the Jolly Olly Orange was perfectly good. Given the utter lack of food products in it, if you can find it, it’s probably still “perfectly good” to this very day.  I developed a taste for sweet tea, and I’m pretty sure that they day I moved out of the house to go to my first apartment, there were packages of Jolly Olly Orange in Mom’s cupboard.



  1. LOL!!!

  2. (slightly wounded defensive tone) One of the *features* of drink mixes without sugar is that they last a really long time.

    I have over a dozen packets bought on sale or at the discount store and saved up over the years all ready for when Solvi is old enough. It is WAY cheaper than soda.

    Oh, and you make it with 2/3 cup sugar not 1 cup sugar – cause otherwise it is too sweet (and it also saves $).

    • Note to self – pour flavorful drinks down chosen niece at every opportunity, in an attempt to alleviate childhood palette scarring.

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