My brother just called – he’s on his way to Texas and saw a tumbleweed blowing across the road. “It reminded me of that tumbleweed I sent you when I was a Coke spy. Remember it?”
Of course I remembered it. I had just flunked out of college after two years of courting Jack Daniels rather than going to class. To pay my half of the rent I worked as a waitress – a little smug because who needed college anyway since I made more in tips than a lot of college graduates earn. I was living the life, having a lot of fun, but sometimes nagged by that vague sense of despair from not having any direction in life.
This is what a tumbleweed looks like.
Then a box arrived – a big box, from my brother. He’d gotten a job with the Coca-Cola company in Atlanta as part of an elite team of high-achieving college graduates hired to enforce trademark rules in restaurants across the country. The company gave these college VIP’s a new car, good salary, an expense account, and lots of other perks and sent them out to American cities large and small. Their job? Go into eating establishments and say, “Can I have a burger and fries and a Coca-Cola?” When the waitress brought their beverage, they sneaked a sample of it with a syringe, labeled it and later typed up a report, such as, “I ordered a burger and fries and a Coca-Cola from a slim 5’4” waitress with blond hair in a beehive hairdo wearing a name tag that said, ‘Mabel.’ She brought a beverage to me at 12:42 pm” and so on, describing the interaction, restaurant, and all other facts about the encounter. The Coke spy labeled the beverage and mailed it to Atlanta, where it was analyzed. If the waitress served a Pepsi or RC or some other brand, Atlanta sent them a letter saying they could not substitute cola beverages. They had to say, “We don’t have Coca-Cola, is Pepsi okay?” Later, another Coke spy would return to the same place, and eventually, if the restaurant didn’t comply, they’d get sued and my brother flew to Atlanta to testify. The company was trying to keep people from using the word “Coke” as a generic word for cola. In other words, they wanted “Coke” to be a Coke, not a Pepsi, not a Shasta. I think it’s called trademark infringement.