Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Happily Stuck in Lodi

Have you noticed A&W root beer ads on TV lately? I'm not sure when the last time A&W had a TV marketing campaign was, but I think they had Mr. T in them, so it's been a while. My first thought was that they were pumping up A&W for its 90th anniversary, after all it was 90 years ago that Roy Allen set up his first roadside root beer stand in Lodi, CA and then partnered with Frank Wright to form A&W. There's a larger trend of nostalgia marketing happening right now: nostalgia sends people back to a happier time, as in a time when there wasn't a recession, your house wasn't in foreclosure, and Mr. T distributed frosty mugs of root beer to all who desired.

I pity the fool who doesn't like this ad

A&W isn't alone in this, even in the soda industry. Pepsi made several moves along these lines recently: first they spent over $1 million to redo their logo into something that looks just like their old logo but has a stripe in the middle that resembles a smile (it also just happens to resemble the Obama campaign logo as well, coincidentally), and now they've introduced several new products, Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback, and Pepsi Natural. The two "Throwback" sodas have retro packaging and - gasp - real sugar. You see, in America, the use of real sugar hearkens back to a happier age. Pepsi Natural goes one step further in that it uses actual kola nut extract in the recipe as well as real sugar (and it comes in a nifty glass bottle).

The new Pepsi Natural

Even if these are crass attempts to get us to spend more money on things we really don't need, anything that brings sugar and natural ingredients back into sodas gets my support. With root beer, you don't need to do anything at all to make it a throwback, the mere mention of it can send people back to hot summer days of their childhood, real sugar or no.

Whether the A&W ads are part of some sneaky nostalgia marketing campaign or not, it is in fact the 90th anniversary of A&W, and to celebrate in a suitably nostalgic way, the owner of the A&W Drive-In in Lodi threw a birthday bash complete with a classic car show, a live band playing retro hits like Dream Lover (and yes, CCR's Lodi), and "7-foot-tall ambassador of fun" himself, the A&W Root Beer Bear. Naturally, I had to go.

Playing up the retro

The 7-foot-tall ambassador of fun

Even without the help of the band, it's physically impossible to go to/through/near Lodi without getting the CCR song stuck in your head. I tried, I really did, but it just crept intro my brain and, well, got stuck.

I'm sure it was somewhat of a different town 40 years ago, but despite what John Fogerty claims, Lodi's really not a bad place in which to be stuck. This is probably getting off on a dangerous tangent, but this is just further evidence that John Fogerty isn't always a trustworthy source. After all, CCR's The Royal Albert Hall Concert album was actually recorded in Oakland, California, I highly doubt elephants were actually playing in the band (tambourines, maybe), and he wasn't born on the bayou like he claimed, he was born in Berkeley, making his twangy "hoyd it through the grape vahn" accent and use of words like "hoodoo" highly suspect.

I suppose if you were "lookin' for fame and foytchun" in the music industry Lodi may not be the place to look, but it is quite a charming little town, especially in the old downtown and the surrounding tree-lined residential neighborhoods. Plus Lodi also has an arch, prettier (albeit less slogany) than the one I saw recently in Modesto.

The Lodi Arch (built 1907), leading to downtown

Lodi City Hall

Classic cars and A&W Root Beer

I don't know much about old cars, but I like them. I can't tell you the difference in the tail fins between a '58 and a '59 El Dorado, in fact I'm only mildly confident they had tail fins at all in those years. Mostly what I can do, and I'm quite good at this, is look at old cars and say, "Oooh, car pretty."

Oooh, Corvette pretty

Oooh, Shelby Cobra pretty

Ooh, shiny engine pretty

Oooh, line long

Given that it was a hot day, and a few thousand people showed up to ogle the pretty cars and drink root beer, there was a long line to get into the A&W. No one minded the wait, and they had plenty of staff on hand, so it went fairly quickly.

Even the A&W Root Beer Bear was on hand to make sure everything went smoothly


Sadly (but sensibly) they were only serving floats in paper cups on the festival day, and big frosty glass mugs greatly improve a root beer float. Still, I'm not one to complain with RBF in hand.

I couldn't possibly pass up getting a commemorative mug

Lodi's actually really close to the Bay Area (so John Fogerty shouldn't have had a hard time getting back home), and the drive through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta is one of the nicest ways to cross the valley. The 100 year anniversary will be 10 years from now — maybe they can line up a CCR reunion concert...

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