One of the rewards of having friends from different ethnic and cultural
backgrounds is that, by sharing their rituals and traditions, your own horizons
are broadened. I've recently had the luck to witness a bit of the rich heritage
shared by white boys in the bedroom community of Walnut Creek. The traditional
foodways of Walnut Creek include many spicy and exotic dishes such as Mini
Pizza Pockets and Instant Four-Cheese Pasta Helper. But flavorful as they are,
none of these foods share in the loving reverence - the intense
mystique - that surrounds the Big Gulp.
Originally, the Big Gulp was only brewed by the priestly caste of Walnut
Creek during certain astrologically auspicious times of the year. And although
the recipe has been carried across the world during the Suburban Diaspora and is
no longer tabu to outsiders, the drink is still invested with a quasi-religious
significance. My suburban friend Johnnie regards the Big Gulp as the pinnacle
of western civilization. If Ben Franklin were transported by a time machine to
California in 2002, the first thing Johnnie would like to do is buy Franklin
a Big Gulp.
The Big Gulp is one of these subjects that takes seconds to understand and a
lifetime to master. The basic concept is simple: one may obtain, at
certain authentic ethnic establishments like 7-11, a very large plastic cup.
This cup (which symbolically represents the Holy Grail) grants the bearer the
right to leave the establishment with a quantity of soda pop. In exchange for
the cup and the pop, the supplicant is expected to leave a nominal donation.
(These few coins represent the "ferryman's fee," for on a metaphorical level,
the cup-bearer has obtained a draught from the River Styx.)
The variations on this simple ritual, however, are numerous. For one thing, a
"big" Gulp is actually available in four different sizes, ranging from a Small
Gulp to a Double Gulp. While at first glance all this pageantry may seem
bewildering, insiders to the Big Gulp tradition can navigate the complexities
with ease. On a very informative website, I learned that the small gulp
is "soooo sucky that only morons get it." And my friend Johnnie concurs, while
adding that the Double Gulp, at 64 ounces, is so large as to be "silly." The
44-oz Super Big Gulp is, however, widely favored. Thus are younger suburbanites
gently taught that one man's "big" is another man's "sucky," and that the most
rewarding path is one of moderation.
In this modern age, however, traditional societies often find their customs
disrupted by the pressures of modern urban life. The Big Gulp, sadly, has not
been exempt. Terrible cup shortages have wracked the 7-11s. Two separate waves
of shortages have occured nationwide over the past two years - but the
mainstream media gave the crisis no coverage. I hate to cry "racism." But when
I learn that a shortage devastating to the suburban communities was allowed to
continue unchecked while I, and the rest of America, went about our
ordinary lives in the inner cities, well, I feel that the media is
unthinkingly participating in what amounts to a cover-up.
If you want to help, the best thing you can do is help sustain the Big Gulp
tradition. Find a 7-11 near you! These unassuming little hideaways are usually
not hard to find, once you know what you're looking for. Also, I can point you
to no better online resource than "The Big Gulp Page," where you can
download Big Gulp wallpaper for your desktop and learn about which soda pop
flavors are the best. The site's content is as informative as it is
straightfoward. Apparently, the most frequently asked question is "Why isn't
this a site about Slurpees?" And the author responds, with admirable
restraint and simplicity: "Because it is a site about Big Gulps. I don't like
The author hopes to someday create a Big Gulp webring, and every little hit may
take him closer to his dream. Meanwhile, I hope others may experience the
traditions of friendliness and hospitality that I have had the pleasure of
sharing during my travels through Walnut Creek.