Flavor Blind

Nobody can dispute the fact that New Orleans is a colorful town. ‘Red drink’ is a prime example.

“Red drink.” Anywhere else I have lived this beverage would be known as ‘fruit punch’; here in New Orleans, it is simply ‘red drink.’ ‘Red drink’ refers to any non-carbonated, red-colored beverage; Hawaiian Punch, eighty-nine-cents-a-gallon generic stuff…you name it. Offered a cup of ‘red drink’ and you respond with ‘What flavor is it?’ will get you a quizzical look in return, along the response, ‘Its red drink!’

I have encountered this in situations both public and private; as a teacher, I have seen numerous classroom events garnished with countless jugs of the stuff by teachers, students and parents. What’s funny is that adults and children alike usually announce their party arrival with “I got the red drink!” with the eager aplomb of a college kid who pulls the gin for spiking the punch out from under his coat.

While it is usually some sort of fruit punch, ‘red drink’ I have been offered at various functions has been strawberry, cherry and some other blended concoctions – which I guess puts it back in the ‘fruit punch’ category. In New Orleans, It’s all  simply ‘red drink’.

Before moving here, I would have presumed ‘red drink’ to be Tabasco sauce.

To clarify, ‘red drink’ does not apply to red-colored Kool-Aid, even though Kool-Aid comes in many red-oriented flavors like cherry, strawberry, black cherry, fruit punch, etc. Kool-Aid is simply Kool-Aid and questioning what flavor it is usually gets you the response “Its Kool- Aid!” in a defiant tone of voice that suggests that you ask ridiculous questions. Woe be onto you if you are at a party and are offered a choice of Kool-Aid or red drink and inquire about flavors. Just don’t go there, here.

Oddly, as popular as ‘red drink’ appears to be here, Kool-Aid seems to have a bit more cachet. I am not sure why, though the fact that almost nobody here measures the sugar when they make it might have something to do with it. When mixing Kool-Aid, most of the locals add sugar ‘to taste’ – which to my taste usually renders the finished product closer to hummingbird feeder syrup than true Kool-Aid. (Once, two of my students argued over the sugar/water ratio for a pitcher of Kool-Aid, one disagreeing with the certainty of another by proclaiming “When it gets hard to stir, you put in too much sugar!” Ya think?)

New Orleans also has ‘red soda’ although that refers to red cream soda and not, as I initially assumed, strawberry pop. That, (silly me) is known as ‘strawberry soda.’ (And yes, I know I still use the Midwestern ‘pop’ over the southern ‘soda’ and I don’t spend enough time in rural Louisiana to use ‘Coke’ as the all-encompassing term for carbonated beverages. Oh well.)

This name-a-thing-by-it’s-color phenomenon here is not confined to beverages.

Searching in vain at a convenience store, a friend, also a transplant, asked the clerk where she could find ‘windshield washer fluid’ and was met with a questioning look and a puzzled “What are you looking for?” Searching her mind for more identifiable, universal slang, my friend responded “You know, windshield washer fluid. Bug juice. The stuff for your car that cleans the windshield.”

“Ohhhh…” replied the clerk, finally getting it, “You mean blue water!”

Silly me, I thought that was where the Tidy Bowl man hung out.

After my friend related this story to me, I told a coworker (a local) who said, with a shrug, “Yeah. Blue water. That’s what it is.” with a look that suggested I was again talking foolishness for even questioning the matter. I still thought this an odd-clerk-quirk until one day I stopped to buy a gallon of bug juice and a drink (not red). I plunked the gallon jug and fountain cup on the counter and the clerk said, “That it? Just the blue water and the Coke?”

Blue water it is, I guess. When living in Rome…

My fear with this one is I actually use the phrase when we go back to Minnesota and I need to buy a gallon of northern, winter-grade windshield washer fluid – the stuff with alcohol in it, which they don’t sell in the south, which I learned firsthand our first winter returning to the northland for Christmas, and our ‘blue water’ (because that’s ALL it is) froze, and we had to go to a local Honda dealership to get it thawed out and replaced with good, northern bug juice with some good old anti-freeze alcohol in it.

Okay, so ‘bug juice’ is not what you really need in Minnesota in the winter time, but you do need some windshield washer fluid that won’t freeze up like a New Orleans daiquiri.

Which reminds me, have I ever told you about the oddity that is the New Orleans drive-through daiquiri shops…?


Bartender genome

Sitting alone at a bar
downing a row of
tequila shots will earn
you something…

from across the bar;
griping rights,
privileges – at the very
least a knowing wink,
acknowledging smile,
tacit agreement, a nod.

Sitting by yourself at
Starbucks counter
throwing back espresso
shots while clicking
away on a laptop gets
you ignored indifference

as most baristas lack the
hereditary imperative of
the best barkeeps, while
increasing suburbanization
of the traditional, dimly-lit
habitat is rendering the
trusted, guru-esque
breed of mixologist our
most endangered species

For anyone who masters
the hybrid genetics, there is
a Nobel Prize in it for you.

Or at least a full tip jar.