it’s 11:59pm and i have 32% battery left with no power cord.
i have just emerged semi-triumphant from the most grueling couple days.
back in 2012 i decided the next project i needed to take on was making my own sodas for my restaurant. taking so much pride in every other aspect of my business from every single lightbulb to every single song played, the ONLY thing about my business i was not proud to serve was pepsi. not because i have some hatred for that particular company over the other but because it was high fructose corn syrup and chemicals and preservatives and just overly sweet and so corporate giant.
i did quick online research and began my collection of ingredients to make a cola. this is where the story draws out for months as i make and make and make sodas. i decide there is no way i can make them for my restaurant because of the logistics of the syrup pumps and fountain machine but i continue making sodas weekly leaving my kitchen a sticky mess.
enter craig. craig is a customer at the restaurant and i hear he makes soda at home. we are soon talking about my idea and pretty soon craig is sending me emails showing how i can buy an all set up refurbished fountain machine. easy. then i see craig and mention the bag in box problem, and how i want to re-use our 5 gallon feta buckets and next thing i know i’m getting texts with links to the quick release valves that would work. damn that craig.
28% battery. one things leads to another and i somehow convince myself i can buy a machine and replace all my sodas with homemade ones. i run into obstacles left and right and center. the ginger ale only tastes good with real ginger juice but the juice is heavy and sinks. the lemonade does not taste enough like lemons. the root beer is like trying to learn to write chinese. these problems persists and i keep going at them like a bat out of hell and making my wife crazy. i get to a point where i decide i need to start putting the elements together for the real deal. i get butch to weld a stand for the buckets. i talk to craig about how we can keep the ginger juice from settling. i order the fountain machine. i keep trying to learn chinese writing. finally in my insanity i cannot take it anymore that my desk is full of essential oils and my bucket collection is taking over my living room and even though i don’t know how to make root beer and i don’t know how i will solve the problem of keeping up with demand at my insanely busy restaurant, i make the huge leap of setting a date to install the machine. the saturday night before the install i go to work at 5:30 and have to leave at 7. i am so nervous about the project, my mind is racing so hard that i have to go home to deal with my anxiety. this is unusual for me
25% battery. enter freddy. freddy is the fix it man of all fix it men. his son is freddy, his second cousin is freddy. they all come and fix my equipment and move my equipment and help me in the middle of the night or day. a restaurant can’t run without a freddy. there’s also james. james is freddy’s main right hand man. freddy and james are set to come take out the pepsi machine and install my new old machine. i don’t tell pepsi. you can’t have them scheduling a uninstall so i can make my own sodas. the restaurant is closed on sundays and mondays so we start on sunday morning and here we go.
23%. we don’t do special events on the “weekends.” our weekends are sunday and mondays and we are so busy during our 5 day work week that we all need the 2 days off so we don’t go insane. at some point i get an email asking me to host an end of tax season party for 70 cpa’s and i agree. monday april 15th at 5:30pm. when i scheduled the soda install and the cpa party for the same weekend somewhere in my misguided mind i thought the install would be easy and the cpa’s would be drinking homemade sodas. the party quickly grew from 70 to 103 and so i went from renting out our back lounge area to the crowded 70 to renting the restaurant and lounge for 100 and we were catering salad pizza and dessert.
21%. i have to get busy.
the pepsi uninstall takes longer than i expected and mid day my friend denise arrives to help me start making the many buckets of syrup i will need for this new venture. freddy and james are busy getting the machine installed and denise and i are making simple syrup. the hours fly by. at 6pm everyone needs to knock off for the day and i take the chance to meet my family for sushi. we have a blast. the kids eat like champions. i tuck them in bed and am back at work to “clean up” and maybe make a couple more flavors. i walk in to a flood. the water line to the machine is leaking. i call freddy. he says he’ll fix it tomorrow. i turn off the water. i mop. i make sodas. i clean up. i get home around 1 am. my mind won’t rest. i wake a couple times and then for good at 4am. why didn’t i purge the water line? it’s probably still leaking. how am i gonna get it fixed, have time for the machine to make it’s ice bath and get ready for the party by 5:30? i get out of bed at 6 am after worrying myself silly and make breakfast for the kids and i’m back at work by 7:30am.
17%. oh my. freddy has a couple errands. i try and fix the faulty clamp unsuccessfully. craig arrives to see my progress. he looks at the clamp. freddy arrives and then leaves again for lowe’s. he’s gone forever. i am cleaning and trying to figure out how the pumps will work and getting the syrup valves attached. craig is helping. freddy is gone for a long time. he finally gets back, works on it another hour and decides he needs to go to home depot. i am losing my ever loving mind here. it’s lunchtime and he’s on his way to home depot and the machine is still leaking and we haven’t even introduced the CO2. craig and i go to lunch and i complain and bitch and moan and drink 3 cokes to wake me up. we get back and freddy has fixed the leak. he is on to installing the water filter. craig and i are back at the syrups ready to turn on the CO2 gas which pushes the soda and activates the syrup pumps. the whole damn operation is foreign to all of us. freddy can fix an oven or install an ice machine but he is scratching his head looking at this counter electric fountain machine. craig and i are pouring over the “instructions” that came with the machine. it’s written like an installation for dummies guide with huge font and pictures but we are stumped at every turn. craig is not phased. craig is a solution looking for a problem. there is no obstacle craig cannot surmount. craig is the only reason i am doing this stupid thing.
13%. we hook up the syrups and go out back to turn on the gas in the huge tank behind the dry goods storage. we come back in to an explosion of soda syrup in the office where the syrups are kept. i run back out and turn off the gas. we have a blown gasket on a soda line not seated right. we steal a gasket from a line we’re not using and do it again and get the same results. exploding syrup all over the office. the next two times we get smart and use our cell phones to communicate. we get leaks both times and now we have an office covered with sticky sugar water and craig is also covered. he conveniently has to go get his kids. says he will return and leaves me with hours of cleanup. it’s 3:30 pm and my phone gives the alert to remind me what i don’t need reminding: the cpa’s impending arrival in 2 hours. i clean. i re-clean. i mop. i re-mop.
i call the people working the party and tell them to come in early, not because the office needs to be clean for the cpa’s, not because i need sodas for the cpa’s, they can get bottled sodas in the lounge, but because the rest of the place is a mess and i have to have a clean kitchen and server station before the party. 5:30 arrives and i have holed up in the office stacking all my crap on every surface and am on my knees wiping walls and baseboards and filing cabinets.
8%… time to make a long story short. craig arrives back. it’s 6pm. we figured out what we had done wrong and now all that’s left is setting the syrup flavors. we start this process during the party and the cpa’s are getting beers and wines and tea and so we are not in the way. i start with the cola. i turn one screw this way for more syrup, i turn the other screw that way for less soda water. i use my special 1 to 5 measuring cup and within 2 minutes the ratio looks right. i take a sip. it’s cola. i’ve done it. i am elated beyond belief. at that moment a customer behind me requests a stella and a coke. the server says, “you have to go to the lounge for sodas. “ the guy seems a little put off.
i say, “NO. i have a cola right here. “ ice, cola, BAM. hand it off, he says it’s for his wife and i am finally beaming for the first time in weeks. i take another sip. then another. hmm. “there’s a slight hint of root beer,” i say to craig. and then i realize why. the exploding root beer line had covered the top of the cola bucket with root beer syrup.
i had cleaned the buckets but there is that tiny vent hole on top of the buckets. craig had taken the lids and “welded” on a micron screen for a vent hole using some method from his lab. probably a half a teaspoon of root beer syrup had slipped into the cola. I’m mad but then i figure no one will notice. At that moment the woman comes to us and says her cola tastes like root beer. she doesn’t like root beer. my first soda. rejected.
i’ve come home now. i’ve taken a shower. i’ve plugged in my laptop. i want to go to bed but i am so jacked up on sugar that i just want to get the rest of this down.
i was excited still about my soda because i had made 2 colas to start the week and i knew i could just switch out to the other syrup. we moved to the second valve. we spent 10 minutes. it wouldn’t calibrate. no matter what we did we couldn’t get the required syrup. “we’ll come back to it” craig finally prompts. we skipped to the third valve. the third valve is not setting right. we quickly go to the next. the next one gets stuck open and won’t shut off. we have to go unhook the syrup bucket and wait for the lines to empty out. we fiddle with that for a bit and then give up and move to our favorite, ginnie ginger ale. we cannot get any syrup to come out of this valve no matter what we do. we move to the final one and more problems in calibration. the screws are not doing what they should. “why did i buy this ‘remanufactured’ piece of crap?” remanufactured means they spray painted it black. i have one flavor, a cola that tastes like root beer.
craig says he has to go. “we’ll figure it out man. no big deal.” “what do you mean we’ll figure it out? we’re screwed! i have to open tomorrow morning with new menus and tons of hype on twitter and i’ve got nothing. “ i moan. “i’ll call the guys you got the machine from tomorrow and get them to overnight us some valves,” craig says, ever the optimist.
craig leaves and i go into the office to escape the sideways interest from my employees and the “tax day party” atmosphere all in the nearby dining room. i go in the office and sit to call my wife. the office is a wreck, tools and hoses and rags everywhere. after telling my wife the bad news i decide to go home and get my wits and wait for the party to be over and then go back and clean up and figure out what to do. “maybe i can switch the cola out and move the diet cola to that lemonade line that seemed like it might work.” ever hopeful but losing faith.
at home my wife looks up lancer valves and reports they have 39 parts to each valve. she finds the phone number for the certified lancer tech in the biggest nearby city, an hour and half away. we talk about it all, switching back to pepsi, forging ahead, ordering brand new valves at $117 each… i read the kids a couple chapters, tuck them in and it’s just past 9. i head back in to face the nightmare.
i had thought all along there had to be a second adjustment to the flow. i searched through the paperwork for the tenth time and found nothing about any secondary flow adjustment. i go to the diet valve that didn’t work earlier. i start turning a couple screws thinking it might help…. and then PPPPPPPSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! water and syrup start spraying out of the top of that valve like nobody’s business. spraying me in the face with such force. i tighten the screws back up quickly but no change whatsoever. i’ve busted something bad. i jump on the stepladder and turn off the water behind the machine.
i unplug the machine. the water does not stop. i walk away and text craig to call me right now. he kept saying it was “asian night” and while i had no idea what that meant i felt like i had already bugged him too much to call him at that moment. besides, what can he tell me to do that i haven’t done? the thing is still spraying and it’s been a minute. the server area is getting covered. then i think, GAS! maybe i’ve broken a co2 line. i run into the office and back down the regulator so there’s no pressure there. it’s still spraying like crazy. what the hell do i do? i think of the main co2 line. i run behind the shed and shut it down. i get back in and still spraying but not as bad. it’s subsiding now. shit. i must have busted a co2 line. i am defeated. how did i ever get myself into this mess? i decide maybe i can just take this whole valve out and then clean up and continue on without that valve. i screw around and figure out how to get it off. i turn the water back on and it sprays out of there like a fountain. i sit down outside, defeated again. craig calls.
its worth noting here that after craig had left he texted me to say he sees light at the end of the tunnel and i just see a headlight coming. i tell craig the bad news that i busted something. i tell him the good news that while taking off the valve i think i found the secondary flow controls i needed to make it work. but now i don’t think i have co2 and not only can’t turn the machine back on but won’t be able to push beer through the kegs either. craig says maybe i should try and replace the valve i took off with the spare we had. i told him it would be like trying to order for 16 people in chinese. i’m not the engineer, he is. i’m the artist. “can you come down here and try and install the spare valve and see if i have ruined it for good?” “no, i’m on kid duty,” he says. it’s almost 10 by now. his kids are asleep. he’s just had enough. it’s late. i’m screwed. it’s my problem. “i think the headlight is getting closer in that tunnel” he says. “yeah. call the soda guys. see if they can send us some valves. i’ll talk to you tomorrow. “
defeated. utter and complete failure. no wonder i had such foreboding about this. i get up and go look at the situation. i don’t look at the sprayed syrup and water everywhere. i look at the spot with the missing valve. i inspect it. i see the washer i thought was lost. i see the other washer. i keep looking. i get the spare valve. somehow, i don’t know how, i don’t understand why i even attempted to imagine i could replace a soda valve, but i started tinkering. there was no power, no water, no co2 to the machine. i figured it out. i replaced the empty spot with a spare valve. i slowly turned on the water. it was not leaking. i plugged it in, it was running. i turned on the co2 and it was all just fine. somehow it was all fine. not only fine but i had discovered those secondary flow controls. i could cut back on the soda water to get the calibration to work. i started with the cola again. i switched to the new syrup bucket. i ran syrup though the lines. the cola was fine. i moved the the diet, stevie z-cal. made with natural stevia and zero calorie. i used the secondary valves and it worked! moved to the 3rd. worked. 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th…. the one that wouldn’t stop before stopped fine now. the one that was so so weak in syrup sped up once i moved the secondary valves open and shut a few times… i tasted sodas. all the way down the line. all 7 flavors. all 7 flavors are fine. i sat down at 11:59 on tax day to tell my story of my insane idea to make all my sodas from scratch and hook it up to a fountain machine.
it’s 3:05 am now. i scrubbed down everything with “sugar in my step.” i cleaned up that office better than it was before i started. I just can’t believe I pulled it off in the end.