We Eat It So You Don't Have To: SURGE
Photo by Ryan Cady
"I don't even remember what it's supposed to taste like."
Like almost everyone in the 18- to 25-year-old age group this month, I was a little giddy. Surge was coming back, and it was sort of like Christmas meets Back to the Future meets 90s X-Men. It was going to be extreme. It was going to be rad. It was going to be awesome.
The highest of class
Photo by Ryan Cady
For those of you who don't know, in 1996, the world was a much, much different place. Mainly, it was more HARDCORE than the world of today. In such a HARDCORE world, soda reigned supreme over the world's youth (Sunny Delight had of course been long since cut loose as "lame," and Capri Sun was more of a mandatory school lunch thing than a beverage of choice), and advertising was going a little insane. See, Pepsi had this thing called Mountain Dew, and it was super radical; it had like, totally gratuitous amounts of caffeine per serving, and it had the Coca Cola company like, totally freaking out.
So in response, Coca Cola came up with "SURGE!" - a "citrus flavored soda," which was basically just Mountain Dew with testicular fortitude. And while the "FEED THE RUSH" marketing campaign was embarrassingly successful, Surge only survived until 2003, when it quietly bowed out, going the way of Limp Bizkit and Kangaroo Jack... but of course, the Internet couldn't just let it be. No, over the past decade, the 90s Kid Collective has transformed Surge from a Mountain Dew knockoff into some impossible ambrosia; convinced that it was gone forever, the denizens of the interwebs were perfectly content to put all of their hopes and dreams into the concept of a perfect soda, presuming it would always be just that - a concept.
But that nostalgia wasn't enough for some - a cool duderino named Evan Carr and some friends got together and made a Facebook page in 2011 to "BRING BACK SURGE!" but unlike previous Facebook campaigns against things like Joseph Kony or religious intolerance, this campaign was actually successful. Last month, Coca Cola put Surge back into production and put that sweetness on shelves - and I managed to get my grubby little hands on a can. And don't get me wrong - I was pretty goddamn excited.
But here's the thing. When something becomes so mythical, so unreal, it's impossible to truly recreate it - to live up to the dream. So when I cracked open that slightly oversized, slightly off-color can of green goodness, I knew that I had to steel myself for the inevitable disappointment. Because, much like Nick Nolte in The Prince of Tides, I wasn't truly in love with Surge - I was in love with the idea of Surge. Staring at that can, I felt all out of place; I felt like I should be flipping through a Rob Liefield comic and watching a recording of the '97 X-Games on VHS, not sitting at a granite countertop in a button up shirt holding a phone that can take pictures.
Photo by Ryan Cady
So, I'm sitting at my counter with this can of Surge, which is inexplicably a tallboy instead of the regular cans I used to beg my poor bedraggled mother to get me, and I realize with a start that I can't even really remember what it's supposed to taste like. Sure, I knew it was in the Mountain Dew flavor family, but I didn't have any memory of that flavor - just some vague recollections of cheesy commercials and oversugared aftertastes, and years upon years of forced nostalgia. So when I crack the can open, when I sniff the vapor that pops out of the aluminum like fresh powder off an Aspen snowboard, when I bring the can to my lips like a coaster cresting the rise at Six Flags, when I let that fluorescent green brew cascade down my lips like wakeboard spray...when I drink Surge for the first time in over ten years, I am doomed to be disappointed.
Don't get me wrong - it's not a bad soda. It has a thicker presence than Mountain Dew, and there's undoubtedly a stronger cohesion to the mélange than some sodas, but at the end of the day, it was just a lot of bubbly corn syrup. Pouring it over ice, pounding it straight from the can, blasting Smash Mouth's "All Star" or shouting "EXTREME!" before drinking didn't make it actually enrich the experience at all - it was just a soda, and my life wasn't really improved or altered because it resurfaced.
See, and that's the problem with all of us "90s KIDS!" who are still chugging along nostalgia circlejerking on the internet - people who are still worshipping on bended knee at the Church of Kevin Smith and pretending that AOL Instant Messenger was actually more fun than Facebook and indulging in the all around obscene doublethink that pretends the dial-up years of ill-fitting suits and over-the-top television were any sort of progress. Surge isn't a magic elixir because Rocko's Modern Life wasn't actually the best show ever written and Clarissa Explains It All didn't actually explain much of anything - take off the XTREME-O-VISION and face the unfortunate fact:
We grew up.
It sucks, but it happens, and a bunch of fizzy green chemicals aren't going to undo years of personal growth; no amount of Yellow Lake #5 (or Yellow Lake #6, Surge has both) can act as a Fountain of Youth. It's just a soda. Tastes pretty good, though. I guess I might buy another can.
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