There are those who can work from home and those who can’t. I happen to be one of those who can’t.

Unlike some people who have tried and failed at the home-office routine, though, my problem wasn’t that I wasn’t working enough. My problem was that I was working too much.

I have a one-bedroom condo with a kitchen that opens onto a living/dining area, and since there’s no separate study or other work space, my office became my entire home, and vice versa. I could never get away from my computer - it just sat there on my dining table, glaring at me - day in, day out, plugged in and logged on all the time. I couldn’t even watch t.v. without sinking into paroxysms of guilt every time I so much as glanced in its direction.  So, as my work hours increased and my productivity declined proportionately, I decided that, for the sake of my sanity as well as the enticing tax deduction, it was time to rent some cheap office space. As it happened, a friend who has her own design firm had a desk open, so last May I moved myself into a luxurious little office in Harvard Square, complete with air conditioning, a nifty workstation with a giant monitor, and some decidedly non-feline companionship.

It seemed to be a dream come true.

Plus, I was working right across the street from Harvard! Where the intelligentsia frolic! I felt my IQ ratcheting upward the moment I stepped into the Square. Just thinking of the brilliant prose that would undoubtedly flow from my keyboard by sheer osmosis made me go all quivery with excitement. Everything about Harvard Square was bright, shiny, and smart to me. Even the homeless people peddling Spare Change on the streetcorners seemed more erudite than their counterparts on the other side of the river.

But it took less than a day for me to unearth the ugly little secret lurking just beneath this false veneer of genteel intellectualism.

Cambridge is a Pepsi Town.

It’s difficult to overstate the horror that this discovery struck into my heart. I guess I always knew subconsciously how much I had come to depend upon that first Diet Coke of the day - post-workout, usually accompanied by half an English muffin topped with a light coating of peanut butter and a slice or two of green apple. Just enough to send me into hyper drive until lunchtime, when I’d stroll over to Newbury Street and pick up a sandwich and my second can of the day, which I would savor throughout the afternoon. On days when I had extremely pressing deadlines, I’d go through two or three cans in an afternoon, finishing my workday on a soaring caffeine buzz and ensuring that my evening would not be disrupted by anything as petty or distracting as sleep.

But I didn’t realize how significantly not having that Diet Coke impacted my ability to work.

Without Diet Coke, my brain simply refused to switch on. I’d settle down at my workstation and try to concentrate, but I soon found that I didn’t have the wherewithal to get enraged enough about anything to churn out the nasty reams of invective my readers had come to expect from me. In fact, without my morning Diet Coke, I didn’t really feel much of anything. Just one big, vast, expanse of blah.

I searched high and low throughout Cambridge, optimistic at first that I would stumble upon a Diet Coke stash in some tony café near the Square. Sure, the Au Bon Pain next door to my office only offered Pepsi beverages, but I assumed that was due to some nefarious corporate deal conducted in a back room of some dark and sinister office tower somewhere in the bowels of Soda Hell. So I simply skipped the Au Bon Pain on my daily lunch run, confident that I’d secure my fix elsewhere.

Over the course of the next week, in a rapidly escalating state of desperation, I visited sixteen sandwich shops, two bagel vendors, and three pizza places before I happened upon a grubby basement variety store that stocked a few dusty cans of Diet Coke in a dark cooler near the back. My relief at this discovery was muted by the realization of the massive inconvenience it was going to be to have to trek to the other side of the Square every time I needed my jolt. Plus, it looked as though I’d be having a lot of sandwiches at my desk since it’s impossible to eat in a restaurant pretty much anywhere in Cambridge without some duplicitous serving person trying fake you out by slipping that sickly sweet motor oil substitute they call "Diet" Pepsi into your glass.

They’re not even supposed to do that anymore, by the way. About a decade ago, the powers that be at the Coca Cola Bottling Company got wind of the fact that certain restaurant proprietors in Boston were serving Pepsi when customers asked for Coke without explicitly stating that the customers were getting Pepsi. A huge lawsuit ensued, which resulted in a number of these restaurants suddenly deciding to start carrying Coca-Cola beverages instead of Pepsi (much to my delight). I’m convinced it was a disgruntled Diet Coke-drinker who brought this to their attention, since any true Diet Coke aficionado can tell instantly when someone’s trying to slide a Pepsi down your throat.

It’s easy to tell the difference. Diet Coke tastes like rust remover. It makes your eyes water and your heart race, and it burns your throat all the way down, still fizzing madly when it hits your stomach. That’s how you can tell it’s working.  You can toss back an entire bag of Plain M&Ms in one sitting, and as long as you wash them down with a twelve-ounce can of Diet Coke you can rest assured that the soda will eat away every calorie before the sugar hits your bloodstream.  It works - I swear.  Try it.

Diet Pepsi? It doesn’t taste like rust remover, and it sure as hell doesn't eat away any unwanted calories. It’s like drinking liquid furniture polish - flat, treacly, and barely caffeinated. Altogether too sweet and wimpy for the hard-driving, fast-charging businesswomen of today. Only limp-wristed liberals and Southerners prefer Pepsi to Coke, and there is certainly no room for anyone like that in my fast-paced little world of deadlines, speeding tickets, and Power Spinning classes.

If Diet Coke is Dean Martin, then Diet Pepsi is Jerry Lewis.

If Diet Coke is Colonel Hogan, then Diet Pepsi is Colonel Klink.

If Diet Coke is Dr. Evil, then Diet Pepsi is Dr. Spock.

I eventually made my peace with Cambridge when I found a sushi restaurant that serves ice-cold Diet Coke, right out of the can (I know because I snuck around back one day and saw for myself). I eat there once or twice a week; the rest of the time it’s Sandwich City at my desk, Dusty Variety Store Diet Coke in my resentful hand.

I didn’t think it could get any worse than Cambridge. But I was wrong. I’m currently spending a long weekend on Nantucket, and let me tell you - if Cambridge is a Pepsi Town, Nantucket is a Pepsi Island. At least in Cambridge it’s only a 75 cent bus fare to get back into the enlightened Coke City of Boston. On Nantucket it’s a $75 plane ride to civilization. There is only one soda distributor on the Island, and he happens to be a Pepsi guy. According to Island lore, there used to be two soda distributors, but somehow the Coke Guy just up and vanished one day (tightlipped Islanders refuse to elaborate on this baffling mystery, merely shaking their heads and looking nervous when pressed for details), and the Pepsi Guy soon oozed his way into every restaurant, café, and farm stand, his noxious, syrupy sugar-water permeating very nook and cranny of the Island from Madaket to Somerset . The only place you can now obtain Diet Coke on Nantucket is at the Stop & Shop in the center of town, and they have to have it flown in by special delivery, under cover of darkness.

And that’s where I found myself yesterday, searching the soda aisle for a six pack of 12-ounce cans (it’s common knowledge among Diet Coke addicts that the canned version is vastly preferable to the bottled version; it stays colder, retains its bubbles longer, and thus tastes even more bitter and is more painful going down). The shelf was empty, but I flagged down a stock clerk unpacking cartons further down the aisle, who, upon learning of my mission, looked around nervously and then gestured quickly to an out-of-the-way corner, where I had to crawl on my hands and knees to secure my treasure. As I stood up, brushing dust bunnies from my knees, I remarked loudly and with great scorn, “I didn’t realize this was a Pepsi Island.”

The burst of evil laughter that erupted behind me caused me to start and turn, only to find myself staring directly into the hideous glare of an ugly red, white and blue logo, sneering right back at me from the brim of a bright blue baseball cap.

I was face to face with The Enemy.

“And that’s the way it’s going to stay,” warned The Pepsi Guy, eyes narrowing in an unspoken threat.

I backed slowly away, clutching the six-pack to my heart, before turning and fleeing the store.

For the rest of that day and into the night, I studied the Island inhabitants with a critical - and pitying - eye. Despite their outwardly prosperous appearance, there was something…not quite right about them. This became more apparent as the night wore on, and they trudged slowly out of the bars and restaurants shortly after the sun went down, tired, beaten down, and altogether worn out. There was no spark, no zest for life, no energy behind their movements. They merely existed, dazed zombies, shuffling through the night.

No doubt about it. They were Pepsi drinkers.

And I’m on the next plane out of here. Before they get me too.
The Real Thing