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Look, let's just state it right out: there may be haunted pop machines in the world, but this ain't one of them. No, instead there is some very real person who stocks this machine, and has for years. Why? Probably because people keep buying sodas. Then one day, a dust devil of mystery poofs up around the machine — legends grown in a cloud of pot smoke and a desire to make the world more magical than pedesterian — and now whoever that restocker is has practically become the Seattle version of the masked man who leaves flowers and cognac on Poe's grave.
That machine was always kind of weird. Have you noticed that most pop machines (and, I use the term advisably, since we score high on the regional soda v. pop issue) are inside? Or, if not inside, at least under shelter. Rare is the machine just left to the elements, sitting on the street like a discarded fridge. That somebody plugged in. And stocked. That you keep buying food from.
It's also been a fixture of Capitol Hill for many, many years. I can't remember a time it hasn't been there, and I've lived in Seattle since 1987. Have I ever used it? Not that I can recall, but, although I'm sure the product is just fine and safe to drink, it always felt a bit out-of-place to me. I like a little more provenance with my drinks.
I love to think of the people who use it, though. Who use it, or might want a quick drink and happen to have three quarters jangling around in their pockets. How many bought sodas there and then walked up Broadway to Bailey/Coy? How many stopped off on their way home from concerts, or before grabbing a burger at Dick's, or before meeting their dealer?
So many stories, and we only have time to prompt five of them:
The batcavers — The black lipstick felt weird, but the spiked hair and leather pants felt great. When he almost broke his ankle on those fucking platforms, he stopped and leaned against the Coke machine to fix a strap. "We're going to be late, Gerald" she said to him, taking an aggrevated drag on a clove. "Fuck off, Miranda," he said, and then looking up at the machine. "And give me some quarters." She rolled her eyes in disgust. "You're so fucking pedestrian," but she started digging through her purse, and her black-painted long nails came out with three shiny quarters.
The serum — At first, the professor thought about putting the serum in the water supply. But then, if everybody changed overnight, surely an outcry would raise, they'd figure it out, the way everybody would cluster around certain resevoirs. So he came up with the idea of a soda machine selling cheap pop. He'd make money, and the pattern of infection would be much more random and hard to trace. Less broad, yes, but much more interesting. Much more nefarious. Now then, where to place this machine....
The lovers — "Do you have a Coca-Cola?" his date asked, laying next to him in bed, their skin glistening with sweat. "There's a machine on the street, downstairs." That caused a laugh. "Do I look like I'm gonna go down to the street for a pop?" A shrug. "Maybe. Maybe I'll dare you to do it naked. I'll give you my keys and you run down their naked and get us a couple of cans of Coke, and maybe then I'll feel recovered enough to do you again when you get back." His date laughed. But then, stopping, said, "You're serious, aren't you?" He smiled. "I don't know. I guess it depends if you're brave enough. Are you?"
The slot machine — It's been said that every 10,000 cans or so, the spirit appears. Some might say genie, but that's got a certain set of expectations. No, this spirit is more subtle. It does grant wishes, but you don't have to ask for them specifically. You just need to wish them, and so this is why people tell you to think good thoughts: if you put your coins in the machine, and pop open the drink, and take a sip of the cold soda, the first three things you wish for are coming true. You better hope they're not the kind of wishes that will haunt you.
The stocker — There's a story behind the machine and how it started. There's a story behind the couple who keep it stocked. The story has many elements, but the three most important are: a bet on a horse, an airplane that almost crashed because of a watch, and running into an old friend on a very cold night.