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Pepsi Daze at School Picnics

By Marisa Moks-Unger

Growing up in rural Northwestern Pennsylvania, the biggest thing a pre-teen anticipated was the year-end school picnic. Pepsi sponsored it. The amusement park accepted bottle caps for tickets at a one-to-one value. All year long students would beg their parents to save caps to that end. I was no different. I wanted to go on the Scrambler, Tilt-a-Whirl, and signature wooden rollercoaster, The Comet, as many times as humanly possible.

As the big day came, I had a whole bag full of caps that produced enough tickets to even share with classmates who had none. The tickets went in my granny purse – a gift from my Aunt Dee. It had a long strap that I used as a crossover on rides. As my friends and I bounded up the stairs to the Tilt-a-Whirl, the operator told me to take my purse off and keep in on my lap.

“Might get tangled in the ride, kid.”

“Won’t it slide off my lap?” I asked.

“Nah, it’ll be fine, kid,” he told me.

As I listened to him, my stomach felt tight. Ignoring my warning, I plopped it in my lap. Within moments, my purse flung off my lap and slid between the planks of the baseboard effectively being swallowed by the ride. Then, I started crying, which intensified as the operator refused to stop the ride and let me climb in the crawl space to find it.

“But all my tickets are in my purse,” I wailed.

“Sorry, kid,” the operator said while waving more students on the ride.

I hopped the fence and headed to Aunt Dee’s house on Kelso Drive. She asked me what I was doing at her front door as I spilled what happened. I asked if I could call my mother. Of course, Mom told me to get my butt back over to the picnic. My friends gave me some of their tickets. I made the best of it.

From that point on, any tickets stayed in my pockets. And, I never did trust any adult who called me “kid”. I still wonder if a partially disintegrated, green purse with fossilized rectangles of Bazooka bubblegum and rotted park tickets was ever found under the ride. I might be part of the Pepsi Generation, but without knowing what happened to those tickets, I’ll never be free.

Marisa Moks-Unger, MA, an adjunct professor of English and Humanities at Polk State College, is the fifth poet laureate of Erie County, Pennsylvania. Part of the Guild’s teaching faculty, she also organized and managed two week-end regional conferences. Her articles have been published in First for Women and Women’s World. She has been featured on ABC News in Erie, PA and quoted in the Orlando Sentinel.

As poet laureate, Marisa created both in-person and virtual programming for the 250,000 residents of Erie County, PA. The project’s companion book, The Picture This Anthology: Poems from Pop Art, Fine Art, and Photography, featured established and emerging poets who bridged the county divided by the 2016 presidential election. Author of Mud and Stars, a book of poems written in a four-story walkup in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Marisa is also the owner of We Write It Right. She delivers business writing, professional training services, and keynotes to women-lead companies and nonprofits servicing at risk populations, including Dress for Success and United Way.


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