It’s the little differences

@@img1 The Prince of Beverages

VINCENT: You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
JULES: What?
VINCENT: It’s the little differences. A lotta the same [stuff] we got here, they got there, but there they’re a little different?
JULES: Example?
-The second scene from “Pulp Fiction,” as bloody a beverage-friendly movie as you’ll ever see

There’s never not a good reason to be reminded of “Pulp Fiction,” which came to a theater near you 10 years ago this fall. Whether you think its use of violence and vulgarity was good [stuff] or not, it would have to go down as one of the more beverage-conscious movies of modern times.
-There’s a reference to Sprite as a “tasty beverage” in advance of the first shooting in the movie; as it was the guy with the Sprite who got it, we can assume that wasn’t a paid product placement.
-A prospective comparison between two different kinds of the same item is called a “Pepsi Challenge,” though since the item in question is heroin, you can be pretty sure that this wasn’t a promotional consideration either.
-And of course there was the famous five-dollar milkshake at Jackrabbit Slim’s. “A shake? Milk and ice cream?.It cost five dollars?.You don’t put bourbon in it or anything?”
Living in New York, I wouldn’t be surprised if milkshakes have broken the Abe Lincoln barrier, but in 1994, a five-dollar milkshake was supposed to get your attention. I don’t that it would be as good a laugh line today. As time goes by, different things catch your eye. You know, the little differences.
Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece leapt to mind this week when it occurred to me that in many cases, what used to seem unusual just doesn’t anymore. It’s what we previously accepted as the norm that can blow your mind.
Take bottled water. I may be showing my age, or my severe lack of understanding of those well short of it, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it wasn’t that long ago when bottled water was considered an oddity, an affectation, a pretentious luxury good. Who drank only bottled water? Snobs.effetes.Hollywood phonies.
That was the conceit of one of the more entertaining bevheaded threads of another great film of the period, 1992’s “The Player,” Robert Altman’s wicked take on actors, producers, screenwriters and oily movie execs. I rewatched it recently, and if I relearned anything from “The Player,” it was that everybody out there drank bottled water. A running gag had Tim Robbins’ Griffin Mill ordering a different snooty water in almost every scene, including one fictional brand, the name of which escapes me (I’d cue up the scene, but we sent it back to Netflix already).
When it was released, the bottled water references were sly and on target. “The Player” played to the image Americans had of bottled water, specifically something no regular person would drink unless he or she hit the lottery.
The intervening dozen years have taken care of that. The average US citizen (and resident alien, for that matter) drinks 22.6 gallons of bottled water per capita annually, more than twice as much as he or she did in 1992, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation. Except for good old carbonated soft drinks, it’s the most popular beverage in the nation.
Make a “Bottled water? What are ya, Donald Trump?” type joke today and you’d be viewed as something out of “Jurassic Park.” That goes for everybody, from moguls, tycoons and stars to your neighbors Sy and Harriet. It’s familiarity breeds ubiquity, so the episodes that seemed so out of the blue once don’t seem at all unusual anymore.
Example? Here are two:
It was in 1996 or ’97 that I first noticed a ballplayer (Brett Butler of the Dodgers) drinking a bottle of water (Sparkletts, official bottled water of the Dodgers at the time) in the dugout during a game. I don’t notice ballplayers drinking bottled water during games anymore because they all do.
It was on January 20, 2001 that I noticed a newly inaugurated president drinking bottled water (Poland Spring). It was at the little table they set up next to the podium. One minute, George Bush is placing a hand on the bible; the next, he’s placing a hand on a branded beverage. Come January 20, 2005, whether it’s Bush or John Kerry, I won’t be as surprised if a bottle of water winds up feet from the presidential seal.
Bottled water isn’t surprising anymore.
Tap water, however, is shocking.
HBO has a new series called “Entourage,” the first episode of which aired July 18. Like “The Player,” it plays off the image of Hollywood phoniness. Like “Pulp Fiction,” it’s quite profane. I liked it and look forward to more. But I bring it up because near the end of the premiere, two characters are talking in a kitchen-a very nice kitchen in a very, very expensive house. It’s established that there’s serious money at work here.
And one of the characters grabs a glass, turns on the kitchen sink faucet, fills the glass with water from that faucet and drinks it.
Wow! Did I just see what I thought I saw? Somebody drinking tap water on TV? In 2004?
I’m not part of the high-rolling Hollywood lifestyle, so it’s possible I haven’t gotten the memo that tap water is the latest thing among the beautiful people. Or there could’ve been a filtration system in the mansion. Or maybe that moment was supposed to illustrate the earthiness of the character who was drinking the water (he is the most grounded of the “Entourage”). Or perhaps it was just one of those things that gets into a movie or TV show because the people who create them don’t pay any attention to mundane beverage details.
But I do. And it kinda floored me.
It’s the little differences that’ll do that.

Greg W. Prince ( has covered the beverage business as a reporter and editor for more than 15 years.