Day 711: That Sweet, Sumptuous Slush

originally published December 11, 2013

Whilst wandering the school grounds during recess, pondering the lunacy of those hearty Edmonton settlers who determined that this frozen hellscape would somehow not be a ludicrous place to plop down a new town, I noticed a boy in my grade who was eating snow from his be-mittened hand.

“Enrique,” I queried, as even as a child I possessed the foresight to change the kid’s name to avoid a lawsuit, “what on earth are you doing?”

“It’s like the whole world is a giant Slurpee, just without the flavor!” The kid had enthusiasm and a downright sparkly approach to life, I’d give him that. Dumb as a moss-tucked stump, but he knew how to make the best of a situation.

I’d imagine that most local convenience store owners are counting on somewhat unimpressive sales of their Slurpee-like products today, with temperatures not expected to slither up past 15-below with the wind chill. Though I suspect a handful of parched throats around the city will crumple up logic and reason and internal temperature control and grab themselves a slushy treat anyway.

Some of us will down a cold beer tonight – why not a Slurpee?

The Slurpee brand name belongs exclusively to 7-Eleven, though many of us forged our addictions at other stores with Slushes, Chillers, Mr. Mistys, Slusherinos, Squishees, Slush-Puppies, and Half-Frozen Sugar Juice (some stores in my town were very literal). My local corner store had the machine stashed behind the counter, leaving the artistry of crafting the perfect flavor mix in the hands of the same ornery Chinese guy that stacked the pornos at the back of the magazine rack so we kids couldn’t reach them. The world seemed so far beyond our control back then.

Now consumers are faced with a veritable buffet of Half-Frozen Sugar Juice options, starting with Coke, Mountain Dew, Wild Cherry, and heading deep into the murk of the weird. It’s not uncommon to find a spout of some unidentifiable concoction with a generic ‘youthful’ name like Hurricane Rush, Arctic Fire-Squad, Smashing Sour Green, Supertastic Splash-Berry, Pokemon Bieber-Twerk, and so on. I try to avoid getting sucked into the smarmy vortex of drinking a marketing ploy, but sometimes it happens.

A store in Quebec known as ‘Couche-Tard’ (yep, really) is known for combing the dark side for flavor names, as evidenced below.

The history of Slurpees can be traced to a Kansas-born farm-boy named Omar Knedlik. Omar came home from WWII and opened up an ice cream store. In the late 1950’s he bought into a Dairy Queen franchise in Coffeyville. One day his soda fountain crapped out, and he was forced to serve bottles which he kept stashed in the freezer. The drinks turned out to be immensely popular once they’d hit that semi-frozen slush state. Omar set to work developing a machine that could combine flavor syrup, carbon dioxide and water chilled to just the right temperature so that he could sell these things without relying on the happenstance of accident.

His first workable prototype featured a car’s air conditioning unit hooked up to the back. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. Omar enlisted the brilliance of artist Ruth E. Taylor to come up with the machine’s name and outward appearance, and the ICEE machine was born. The machines were an easy sell to local convenience stores, and when Dallas-based 7-Eleven heard about them, it was love at first slurp.

At this time, 7-Eleven’s reach extended around much of the country, with most stores operating between the hours of 7AM and 11PM, hence the name. It was a much catchier moniker than their original name: “Tote’em Stores”, because people would show up and ‘tote’ their stuff away. They made a licensing deal with Omar’s ICEE Company and tasked their ad-man, Bob Stanford, to come up with a new name. Bob went for simplicity – people make a slurping sound when they drink these things, so he called them Slurpees.

Omar may have launched the frozen drink into the world, but 7-Eleven would tweak and twirl it into a cultural frenzy. In addition to their wonky flavor combinations, 7-Eleven also gave us the edible straw, introduced to little fanfare in 2003. They also launched a dual-chamber cup with a double straw and a valve mechanism to allow for individual flavor selection or a mix from both vessels. Do we really need this much technology in our Slurpee consumption? They might be over-thinking this.

If 7-Eleven really wanted to help us out in the lab, they should try to develop some sort of Slurpee technology that can eliminate brain-freeze, or ‘Slurpee-head’ as we used to call it. This happens when the sudden contact of something cold shocks the blood vessels in the roof of the mouth. Your sinus capillaries freak out, much like what happens when your face turns a glowing crimson in cold weather, except with brain-freeze they send a message of “Sweet Fickity-Fuck, Knock That Off!!!!” to the brain.

At least we think that’s what happens. It may have to do with the blood flow to your anterior cerebral artery – too much sudden blood pumping through there sends pain through the nerves. Wow. You’d think by now someone would have figured this out with some degree of certainty.

The cure is pretty simple: press your tongue against the roof of your mouth and regulate the temperature. Also, you can tilt your head back for about ten seconds, but these headaches usually disappear after about ten seconds anyway so that remedy might be a myth.

To my palette, the Slurpee hit its apex when the good folks at Fat Tuesday set up six locations along the Las Vegas Strip and offered grown-up slushie treats that were chock full o’ booze. You’ve got to be careful in Vegas – hotels will happily serve you up a $12 daiquiri in a fancy collector’s glass featuring a meagre ounce and a half of alcohol. Fat Tuesday will take your taste buds on safari upon a hearty river of intoxicating goodness. Two of their $12 drinks will have you doing the lambada in the fountains at Caesar’s Palace with an albino Elvis impersonator and waking up drifting among the Bellagio fountains on a makeshift raft fashioned from stripper-leaflets. Now that’s Vegas.

But for those of us stuck up here in the desolate tundra, we’ll have to settle for the sugar-heavy Frozen-Blast-Boom-Batman-Berry treats. It’s not beyond the realm of feasibility to suck one of these back on a day like this – after all, the Slurpee capital of the world is another town known for its torturous winters: Winnipeg, Manitoba. For 14 years in a row, Winnipeggers have been averaging 188,833 Slurpees sold per month, compared with about 179,700 per month elsewhere in Canada.

So maybe it’s a winter treat after all.

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