I have never been a fan of theme parks. Even less so of the Magic Kingdom, which is a cheap copy of Adventure Kingdom in Veracruz, Mexico. What I really loved as a kid was to go to Pat Reidy's house.
Pat is my parents' friend and co-worker. She hails from Janesville, Wisconsin, and she's been living in Xalapa, Mexico (Veracruz's capital) since the early 70s. Her house looked unlike any other that I had ever been to. It was filled with VHS, Halloween memorabilia, a waterbed, and millions of small useless objects. But the best part was her Coca-Cola collection, which I thought truly fascinating.
She called it her "Coca-Cola shrine," and back then it was just a personal collection. But this collection kept growing until it became Pat's Coca-Cola Museum, as you can now read in a huge sign at her house's entrance.
In a city like Xalapa, where the most famous bands play jarocho and where the general rule is to have Leticia Tarragó paintings hanging on your living room's walls, this lady deciding to have a Coca-Cola museum is a tasteful oasis—in an Andy Warhol sort of way.
After many years of not seeing her, I meet up with her to visit her museum and chat for a little bit.
The first thing that I see when I come into her house is a crucifix made out of Coke cans hanging on the wall. A quote from Fangoria comes to my mind: "Bizarre is always brighter than normal."
MUNCHIES: Hi, Pat. I see that your love for Coca-Cola is still alive and well. Why do you love it so much? Pat Reidy: Well, firstly, I really like the flavor, but I also think that it represents one of the best publicity campaigns that there's ever been in the world. It's international, it's intelligent, and uses everything to promote its brand. People see a T-shirt, a toy, a poster or whatever, and want to drink a Coke. Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus, and that says everything.
What a beautiful T-shirt! Yes, I have tons of Coca-Cola clothes. I'm wearing this because it's really hot, but I also have sweatshirts, other T-shirts, and a robe. My favorite clothing item is a sweatshirt with a hoodie that has a polar bear on it and says "Coca-Cola." The polar bear is my favorite character. It's so cute.
When did this fascination with Coca-Cola start? It was in 1975. My boyfriend then worked for Coca-Cola and I loved the brand. I was living here in Mexico and my boyfriend lived in the US. It was amazing; he had access to all the little things that they made for marketing campaigns. Whenever he came to visit me, those were his gifts, and I would put them all over the house as decoration.
So you started your collection 40 years ago. Yes. At the beginning, besides my boyfriend's gifts, I would add things on my own to the collection. Back then I lived in an apartment and I decided to build my "Coca-Cola corner." Then, I wanted to do it in a more serious way and build my own museum; so I started to look for any objects that were related to Coca-Cola.
Where do you get this much stuff? I have everything that Coca-Cola ever released in Mexico since I've arrived; I even got a few things before I moved here. My friends and many other people that I know bring me something every time they travel. I do the same thing—in my travels, I look for Coca-Cola souvenirs in markets. That bear I brought from a trip. I had to leave a suitcase full of clothes behind, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to bring the bear—but who cares about that when you are able to own a beautiful Coca-Cola souvenir?
From this immense collection that you have at home, what is your favorite object? I was giving private English lessons to my neighbor's son. She was very worried because he got a low grade in English and was about to fail his whole year. She asked me to prepare him for his test. I did and his grade shot up. The teacher couldn't believe his improvement. He had a Coca-Cola can in the shape of a soccer ball that he was planning to give to me as a thank-you present, but his friends started to kick it around and it got all deformed. The kid was sad about it, but his mom told him to give it to me anyway. I loved it. I have many things, some of them really valuable economically. But because of the story behind it that deformed can-ball is my favorite.
Which are the really expensive ones? I have antiques from the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. One of them is a bottle container from the 19th century that I got in San Francisco. Another one that I love is "the Tree of Coke." I did it myself: the stems are bottles of Coke from many different countries and you can see all the different labels. It's beautiful.
How much money have you spent in all these? A lot. Although I do try to buy stuff in street markets and many of them were gifts. I also make a lot of things instead of buying them. I like to use my creativity. By the way, do you want a Coke? My treat.
Yes, please. Tell me about the steps I need to follow in order to be a professional Coca-Cola drinker. You should always drink it really cold; always from a glass bottle, or maybe from a can, but never, ever from a plastic bottle. The best Coke is the one that comes from the tiny glass bottle. I always buy the 355-milliliter glass bottle, though.
How many Cokes do you drink a day? I don't drink it much nowadays. I drink one 355-milliliter bottle a day and I really enjoy it—you have no idea. Unless there's a party or a special occasion; then I drink more. But that's what I do now, because for years, when I had to teach 12 hours a day, drinking Coke was my salvation. I used to drink 15 355-milliliter bottles a day.
Was it ever bad for your health? Never. Back then there was no water. There was no purified water and they didn't sell water gallons to keep at home. So between drinking boiled water or Coke, well, there is no contest, really. I also cook with Coca-Cola.
What do you cook with Coke? You can cook many things with Coca-Cola. I even have recipe books. My specialty is a hamburger that I make with my secret recipe. I fry it on my grandmother's pan—which is huge—with Coca-Cola instead of oil, a bit of English sauce, pepper, garlic salt, and onions. It's wonderful. I call it Pat's hamburger. I also use it in soups. I love it.
What are you planning to do with your museum? The museum is going to continue forever. I will keep buying and collecting stuff. There are many people that give me things that I already have, but I accept them because I don't want to break their hearts. This collection is my life, and I worry that something would happen to it. That's why it's not open to the public. The museum is for my friends and me. Sometimes I show it to other people, like the Coca-Cola director and other people that were really curious about it, but in general, it's just for the people that I know well.
Thanks for talking to me, Pat.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in 2016.