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The Doc and I

by David Westheimer


In 1945, when Dody and I went to New York on our honeymoon, I took time out from connubial bliss and show-hopping on Broadway to hunt for three things:

T. S. Eliots Old Possums Book of Practical Cats, which I had read in Stalag Luft III (and which I found and bought).

The Mills Brothers recording of Paper Doll, which I had heard before World War II and admired (which I also found and bought).

Dr. Pepper. Which I never found.

At the first restaurant where I asked, Do you have Dr. Pepper? the waitress sad, We dont have any doctors here. At another restaurant the waiter said, We have Dr. Brown.

Id never heard of Dr. Brown. It was a kind of soda water, the waiter said. Celery tonic. At least he knew Dr. Pepper was soda pop. I ordered some. Not bad. Now they make creme soda, too. I have it once in a while. When I cant get Dr. Pepper.

I first became acquainted with Dr. Pepper maybe seventy hears ago in the city of my birth, Houston, Texas. I thought it was a brand-new drink although I later learned it was invented at a corner drugstore in Waco, Texas in 1885 and first called a Waco. The company that bottled it beginning as Dr. Pepper was started in Waco in 1891. Its now the No. 1 non-cola in the U.S. and though ubiquitous in Texas is still hard to find in benighted places like New York City and Los Angeles. (The reason I patronize some fast-foot outlets and not others here in L.A. is that they have Dr. Pepper).

Before Dr. Pepper I drank Delaware Punch with my James Coney Islands (everywhere else theyre called chili dogs and James is where we bought them in Houston.) Then it was always Dr. Pepper. And not just with Coney Islands. With everything. The way some folks drink beer.

Back then Dr. Pepper had a slogan.

Drink a bite to eat at 10, 2 and 4.

So when I noticed a high school and college classmate of mine had a wristwatch with the 10, 2 and 4 in red, I asked him about it. It was a gift from his grandfather, a former president and major stockholder of the Dr. Pepper Company. He is still in Houston and we phone each other regularly. He says he lost the watch long ago. Apart from that, we never discuss Dr. Pepper.

I do that with another old friend, who now lives in White Plains, New York. Hes retired from, among other things, People Magazine. He writes childrens books and the Along Publishers Row column for the Authors Guild Bulletin.

In the Fifties we worked for The Houston Post, he as editor of the Sunday magazine and I as TV editor. It was a morning paper so we worked mostly days, except Thursdays and Friday, when we worked until late at night making up our Sunday pages. We had dinner together on those nights. (The make-up men, who work nights in the composing room called it lunch.)

On Thursdays we ate at a Mexican restaurant. He had beer and I had Dr. Pepper. He always smirked when I ordered it. He didnt think it a seemly drink. He disliked Dr. Pepper.

After I moved to Los Angeles and he moved to New York we continued disagreeing about the good Doctor. Now that we are connected by e-mail he taunts me about Dr. Pepper several times a week and I pester him about it. If wed kept our e-mail exchanges wed have a book.

I am the only person in my family or among our friends who drinks Dr. Pepper. My older son, the one who lives here in town, and his wife keep it on hand just for me. He drinks Evian, she drinks Coke.

In the late Sixties I did a stage adaptation of a novel of mine, My Sweet Charlie. In it, one of the two main characters, an uneducated Southern sharecroppers daughter, expressed a fondness for Dr. Pepper. The New York distributor sent a case to the stage company every day of its short run.

Maybe they ll send a case to Senior Women.


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