Back in Wyandotte, Michigan, when Andy Reynolds was just nine years old, an old lady who lived on his street used to send him to the Max Variety Pac for six-packs of Pepsi a couple times a week. She drank it every day. Then one day she told Andy she wouldn’t need him to run her errand anymore. Her doctor had told her she needed to quit. This boggled Andy’s mind, but now he’s haunted by the memory. It’s one reason he’s cut back.

Reynolds is now down to about a six-pack of Pepsi a day. Some days less, some days more. He knows people who drink twice that, but he can’t. Lately he and his doctor have come to verbal fisticuffs because she wants him to exercise even more restraint. She’d like to see him completely wean himself off Pepsi.

“It will never happen,” he said.

“Well,” said his doctor, “switch to Diet Pepsi.”

“I don’t want to do that either.”

How about mixing half regular Pepsi and half Diet until he got used to it?

OK, he said. Didn’t last three days. Bottom line is he doesn’t want to drink Diet Pepsi. In this life, he says, there are only so many things you can sacrifice.

Dairy, for instance. He’s lactose intolerant and already had to quit ice cream. He also had to give up hot peppers. He’s not about to give up Pepsi. “I smile a lot and nod my head,” he says. “We both know it’s not gonna happen.”

Besides, in his opinion it’s not such a problem. Except once in a while–when he’s at a barbecue, or during the dog days, or when he’s had a rough day at work, or whenever else he drinks too much and ends up with an upset stomach. Sometimes he just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes his teeth hurt. And he knows he’s overweight. That’s why he’s cut back.

Recently someone asked him how long it had been since he’d drunk a glass of milk or water or for that matter anything other than Pepsi? It dawned on him that he had no idea. Ten years? He couldn’t nail it down. It hadn’t been a conscious decision. Like a lot of things in life, it just happened. He finally decided it was probably in the mid-80s that he “kind of phased everything else out.”

At any rate, he no longer has any desire for other liquids–milk, juice, anything that isn’t Pepsi. A year ago his doctor persuaded him to reintroduce water to his diet, and he accepted the challenge of one glass per night. Now, Reynolds has taken on lots of challenges–an army tour in Vietnam, two tours in Germany, four marriages–though to date he hasn’t taken the Pepsi challenge because that would entail drinking Coke, and he never voluntarily comes in contact with any Coke product.

Drinking water was tough. He didn’t last a week. “Water,” he says, “is basically pretty worthless. I mean, I’m sure it’s fine to shower in, but other than that I don’t really have any use for it. It does absolutely nothing for me.”

This has always been the case. Back in Wyandotte he grew up in a little house across the street from the Coca-Cola bottling plant. He and his friends played ball in the street, and when they were lucky they got free pop from the guys who loaded the Coke trucks. This was wonderful for everybody but Reynolds, who turned down the free Cokes. He said he’d rather walk three blocks to the store and spend a dime–half of his allowance–on Pepsi. The way he saw it, the best use for Coke was taking the rust off his bike.

In those days Reynolds’s claim to fame was a talent for shotgunning two 16-ouncers in rapid sequence. The other kids would surround him on his stoop and cheer him on as if he were a sword swallower or a frat-house champion guzzler. Then he would chug down the ice-cold brews one right after the other. “Just drop one and go to the other and shotgun them both,” he says. “It would just about burn your throat out, but I could do it.”

In 1997 Reynolds moved to Indianapolis to take a job at General Motors as a sub-subcontracted computer tech and to marry a woman he’d met on-line, Jan Buhler, a labor-and-delivery nurse. For the first few months after they met she thought the Pepsi thing was just a big goof. “It took her a while,” he says, “to realize that I was dead serious.”

As a health-care professional, Jan tends to side with Reynolds’s doctor, but she doesn’t get on his case too much. Reynolds thinks this is probably because people in something other than their first marriage expend less energy correcting their mate’s personality. From the beginning he told her, “This is what I do. This is what I am.” And he informed her of certain ground rules. If they go to a drive through and she wants a Coke, she knows better than to ask him to pass it to her. She’s got arms. She can reach for it. Or if they’re out somewhere and she’s drinking Coke and needs to get something out of her purse, she knows not to ask him to hold her can or cup or bottle. And when her damn brother–a Coke addict who will occasionally break down and drink a Pepsi if he’s thirsty enough–comes over with that other stuff he can damn well sit on the porch until he’s finished. One time his brother-in-law rubbed a Coke on the seat of Reynolds’s car, and later he was insensitive enough to try to come inside Reynolds’s house with one. Reynolds says, “I told him I didn’t want that crap in my house.”

Work is different. At work Reynolds can’t completely cut himself off from non-Pepsi influences, so he tries to keep a sense of humor. One guy in particular, Chuck, gives him a really hard time. “He’ll occasionally come into work and hide my bottle,” says Reynolds. “He’ll stick it in a desk drawer or someplace. It’s a joke. I can live with it. I spend a while looking for it, and if I don’t find it I go buy another.” Most of the time Reynolds brings lunch to work, but occasionally somebody will come around and say, “You fly, I’ll buy.” As a rule, Reynolds prefers to be the one who buys; he’d rather not be the office errand boy, because inevitably somebody orders a Coke. When that happens he either asks a clerk to place the sodas in a bag for him, or–if he must do it himself–“I have to get a Kleenex or something in order to pick up the bottle.” If he can’t find a Kleenex or a napkin he’ll use his shirttail or search his truck for a rag. He says he’s not sure he wouldn’t prefer to pick up a turd with his bare hands.

When he’s dead, Reynolds’s children may stand in his office on the second floor of his home and gaze around, sure that he knew who he was. “There was more to me,” he says, “than ‘I put beans on the table. I died.'”

In this room, surrounded by his Pepsi clock, his Pepsi blimp, his Pepsi magnets and Pepsi keychains and Pepsi telephones and his first dividend check for 42 cents from his three shares of Pepsi stock–which is framed above his desk (a Christmas gift from his brother)–Reynolds surfs the Web, trolling for more Pepsi merchandise, Pepsi commercials, Pepsi trailers, Pepsi logos. He drags items he wants to save or link to his Web site, Andy’s Pepsiholic Haven, with his Pepsi cursor and dreams about the day some ad exec for the Pepsi corporation stumbles across his site, realizes he’s struck gold, and gives Reynolds a call.

He doesn’t want to be knighted or anything, but if they just visited, signed his guest page, acknowledged his existence, maybe wrote to say hi, that would be OK. And he wouldn’t want them to change anything drastically–he likes the product pretty much the way it is. But he says that if they wanted to pick his brains, he could give them some pretty good stuff. He could tell them a thing or two about brand loyalty, though if a fast-talking ad exec from the Pepsi empire called him out of the blue he wouldn’t just run his mouth.

If there’s a reason the Pepsi empire keeps its distance, Reynolds thinks it’s his railing on his Web page against the way Indiana handles eight-packs. When he first moved to the state he was incensed to discover that one couldn’t go into a 7-Eleven or corner gas station and buy a cold eight. “They don’t do that here,” he says. You can buy a single, “but if you want an eight-pack you have to go to Krogers or one of the major supermarkets.” And it’s gonna be warm.

He likes it cold. He likes the way it looks when it comes out of the freezer “just this side of mush, where you just have the ice crystals starting to form and the bottle starts to sweat. For me, that’s the best.” And he doesn’t like to wait for it to get cold. So he made a stink on his Web page, suggesting that the Pepsi corporation try to get Indiana “in line with the rest of the world.” There’s a chance the empire took offense.

At least once a month the Mormons come over. Jan is a Latter-day Saint, and Reynolds respects her faith. “It’s quite similar to my own in many respects,” he says, though church isn’t his thing. He’d rather watch TV or cut the grass on Sunday. Besides, Mormons tend to frown on soda consumption. “When people from her church come around they know what I am,” he says. Anyone who walks into his house can see that it’s the lair of a Pepsiholic. “In the front room on the sofa I’ve got a Pepsi cover and a Pepsi throw pillow, and then my pirate ship is up on the mantel with the little rickshaw made out of Pepsi cans.”

He got these objects in Vietnam in ’69, when he was posted at an army support communications brigade in Da Nang. His mom sent him care packages with ketchup and Pepsi, even though he could readily obtain his beverage of choice from the local vending stands.

Whenever he went out on border patrol he’d sneak a couple bottles into his rucksack. To his thinking, Pepsi is an inherently patriotic libation. “They’ve always had the all-American commercials on TV,” he says. “You don’t think about going down to the park for a Sunday picnic without taking Pepsi. You could, but why? When I was a GI it was one of the things that I could equate with ‘Here’s a touch of home.’ It’s red, white, and blue–as opposed to those other guys with the commie cans.”

The rare moments when Reynolds can’t get Pepsi are dire. The last time, he was in the hospital getting a hernia repaired, and they kept him overnight. He awoke drugged and dry-mouthed, but the nurse refused his urgent pleas for Pepsi. So he refused to drink anything. “We could not come to an agreement,” he says. “We fought until they let me out the next morning. It was pretty rough.” He got a headache that was like an ice pick in his right temple.

His addiction to Pepsi occasionally frightens even him. “From time to time I wonder, have I completely lost my mind?” he says. “Why do I do this?” He’s left restaurants when waiters refused to let him imbibe his imported Pepsi, even after he’d offered to pay the full drink price for an empty glass. The same thing has happened at movie theaters: “‘You can’t bring that in here.’ ‘Well, I’m sorry, all you serve is Coke.’ ‘Well, I’m sorry, you still can’t bring it in.’ ‘Sell me one of them large cups over there, and I’ll stick my bottle in the cup. I’ll pay for it, but what I’m trying to tell you is, this is what I drink.'” If they won’t play ball, he walks. And when he goes to the movies now, he wears his leather jacket with the extrabig pockets.

He’s had business cards made up for people who just don’t get it. He had to whip one out recently at a Mexican restaurant for a waitress who couldn’t understand that he didn’t want water. Not even with lemon.

“There’s no two ways about it,” he says. “I’m definitely an addict. I cannot imagine a day without it. It’s almost like a narcotic for me. Were it to be gone I would grieve for it.” But being a true libertarian, he doesn’t blame the Pepsi corporation for his dependency. He’s of the mind that one must take responsibility for the choices one makes in life. He smokes too, but he doesn’t blame Big Tobacco. “It could have been drugs or alcohol. It could have been gambling or chasing women. Turned out it was Pepsi.”

There are lots of little disadvantages that come with Reynolds’s addiction. “The hardest part people have accepting is that I don’t drink anything else,” he says. “That’s what led to me carrying one everywhere I go. I don’t want to put somebody on the spot–you know, they’ve bought Coke. I don’t want to be rude and tell them, ‘I’m sorry, but I just won’t drink that.’ I don’t want to just assume that they’re going to have it on hand because that happens to be my drink of preference. I don’t expect them to understand my addiction.”

And of course they often don’t. A year ago Reynolds, Chuck, and a third coworker went to pick up some overstock computer parts at an office 50 miles north of Indianapolis. On the drive back, Chuck asked Reynolds if he’d noticed the Coke sticker on the Pepsi bumper sticker on the back of his truck.

“I told him, ‘Well, I would hope somebody had better sense than that.'”

“Well, what if somebody didn’t?” Chuck said.

“I said, ‘Well, then, I’m pretty sure we would have some serious words.'”

Chuck said, “What? Would you really get mad about that?”

“Yes, I would really be mad about that.”

“Well, how mad would you be?”

“I said, ‘Well, I’m not happy with this conversation, and if I go back and I find a sticker on my bumper sticker it’s gonna be serious.'”

“C’mon, man, it’s just a joke.”

“I said, ‘It’s not a joke. I take this serious.'” Reynolds says his fist was now bouncing on his knee. “You know I am a Pepsi fan. It’s my bumper sticker. I put it on there for a reason. I don’t want somebody messin’ it up.”

Chuck digested this. “Well, you know, but what if it’s just a joke?”

“I’m tellin’ you now, there had better not be a damn sticker on my plate!”

“I don’t know why you’re taking it like this.”

“Because it’s a personal item. Anybody who knows me even remotely knows that that’s one thing you don’t mess with. Just leave it be.”

The three rode on in silence until they got to the parking lot. When they parked, Reynolds told Chuck, “You get out of the truck and come with me, ’cause I’m telling you, if there’s one on there we’re gonna dance.”

But when Reynolds got out, Chuck and the other coworker locked themselves inside. “They were grinning out the window at me,” says Reynolds. He strode around to the back of the pickup, his face florid, his hands clenching and unclenching. There was no Coke sticker.

If the Pepsi marketing bigwigs ever call, the first thing Reynolds will tell them they should do is to immediately bring back glass bottles. He doesn’t know what he would have done if they’d gone to just cans when they phased out glass.

Because of course he drinks Pepsi only from a bottle. He won’t drink out of a can. He won’t quaff a fountain drink. He doesn’t like the Grand Slam bottles. He doesn’t like his Pepsi in a tumbler. He doesn’t like his Pepsi in a stein. Only a few times in his life has he been desperate enough to accept a can. “I poured the can in the bottle,” he says. “I’ve been known to do that on occasion.”

Sometimes when he’s gone to somebody’s home for a party it’s been: “‘Let me fix you a Coke or a ginger ale.’ ‘No, I’m sorry, I really don’t do that.’ ‘Well, we’ve got Pepsi here in the can.’ ‘No, I’m sorry, I really don’t do that either.'” He knows people have a hard time accepting that. “‘You’re just yanking my chain.’ ‘Well, no, I’m not. I really don’t drink anything but the bottle.'”

But at least he’s not a baby about it. “I had a rough transition going from glass to plastic,” he says. For a year, after work and on the weekends, he would drive around an ever expanding circle from his home getting glass bottles wherever he could. Finally he was down to one mom-and-pop 40 miles away. He bought the store out for a couple hundred bucks and stacked the soda in his closet. That held him for a few months, though the last of it went flat before he could drink it.

Still, he’s never fully adjusted to plastic. He admits it depresses him on occasion. “But I try to concentrate on the positive. I like the screw-on caps. Those are kind of handy.” He also likes to think that this story will get the message across to those who’ve always thought he was joking.

And of course if one of those ad execs from the Pepsi empire just happened to hear the story they might understand something about true loyalty. And then maybe they could acknowledge it, make a little gesture. Like arrange to have some cold eight-packs put on the shelves in the fine state of Indiana.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yvette Marie Dostani.