James Lileks
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You might have heard that Tab’s been discontinued. Possible reactions:

“What is Tab?” It’s a soft drink — or pop, as we say up here because we’re idiosyncratic and quirky — aimed at the dieter.

“Why was it called Tab? Did someone look at their typewriter and think ‘Return’ was a stupid name, but ‘Tab,’ that’s the ticket?” No, it was intended to help you “keep tabs” on your weight. If you drank Tab, you would be slender and marriageable.

“Noooo! They can’t do that! I’ve drunk five cans a day since 1963! It’s replaced my plasma! I’ll die!” Stock up now, use diluted transfusions, wean yourself off.

“Good, it’s awful. It’s the only soda that tastes like the can, with a hint of one of those discontinued food-coloring dyes that gave babies cloven feet.” That’s a matter of opinion. Also a matter of fact.

“Sigh — another minor detail in life erased.” True, and sad. Soon a new generation will arise that never knew Tab, and there will be just a bunch of old people muttering to themselves about whether the can was red, or reddish-pink, or pinkish-red. Give Mr. Leekus his meds, he’s going off on the can color again, as if it mattered.

I speak as an occasional Tab drinker. Believe me, I was never the target demographic. It was aimed at young women who wanted to “reduce,” as they used to say. It competed with Diet Rite, which tasted as if it were adulterated with window-washing fluid. Both were rendered moot when Diet Coke came along. Suddenly Tab was a ’60s remnant, and probably a bit embarrassing for Coke, like a “fun” aunt who still dresses as she did in high school and listened to Monkees’ albums.

I have no soda loyalties. I buy whatever’s on sale. I know there are Coke partisans who, if their partner brought home Pepsi, would force the family to stand and watch while he emptied every can into the sink, angrily singing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” Not me. This might frustrate the marketers, who no doubt wish to know why I bought what I bought:

“Hello, pardon the interruption, but we’re doing research and want to know why you chose that brand. Was it the redesigned can, which features a micro-thin application of a new metallic paint? Was it the new flavor, Saffron-Acai? Or the slim shape of the can, aimed at today’s forward-thinking soda consumers who regard the traditional can shape as a bygone paradigm?”

“It was because it was three 12-packs for $12. The other cola brand was regular-priced, at $5.49 per pack. Next week it’ll be the other way around and I’ll buy the other one.”

“Thank you for making my life and job seem empty and meaningless.”

“My pleasure.”

What killed Tab? COVID. Seriously. According to the food website mashed.com: “The decision is part of Coca-Cola’s larger plan to eliminate more than half of its 500 products in order to streamline operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

If the demise of Tab is news, it’s because the death of a venerable pop brand is rare these days. Before Coke and Pepsi formed the Soda-Industrial Complex, there were many regional soft drinks. Every state had brands jostling for market share; they came, they went. In the end you lament them only because they bring back memories of summers at the lake, a picnic — a commercial talisman of youth.

Earlier this month, my wife took out some beers for the roofers to reward their long, hard day. Later she suggested I collect the bottles and the opener. “Which opener did you use?” I asked, because I had a sudden spasm of panic.

“The little old cheap one,” she replied.

Oh, no. Well, she wouldn’t know; how could she? It was in the drawer, an old church key, it looked like nothing special. But it was. I’d found it in my dad’s drawer after he passed, and it was like finding Excalibur in a rock in a lake. I pawed through the drawer — and there it was. Safe. The can opener with the hallowed old brand engraved on one side: Shasta.

You don’t see Shasta in stores anymore. Just the big brands, the ones we’re supposed to love.

But don’t despair, Tab enthusiasts. You know how this works. In a few years we’ll read a story about Tab fans importing the stuff from Mexico, where it’s still legal. Then they’ll bring it back with fanfare: Original recipe! Pure saccharine! A huge marketing push will convince everyone it’s the hip thing to drink, and some will grumble that it was all just a plot. If that works, you can say goodbye to Fresca.

For at least a few years.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks