The confused grocery store clerk said this was the first time a customer had ever explained the release date of a soda. I could understand his lack of experience in this matter, especially since he looked to be around the same age as my oldest son, but I wasn't out hunting anything as banal as a new flavor of Sprite or a rare packet of Kool-Aid.
This was Ecto Cooler.
The fabled drink of the hyperactive gods
Ecto Cooler, a Ghostbusters tie-in from Hi-C, was a nuclear green drink that tasted of tangerines, if every inch of that tangerine were to be coated in sugar.
Ecto Cooler was a formative experience for many of us now in our mid-30s, and Coca Cola has brought the drink back to celebrate the upcoming Ghostbusters film. That celebration requires the nostalgia of people like myself who had grown up with the drink, and were willing to cast off their normal aversion to sugary drinks to relive a bit of their childhood.
In many ways, and for a certain populace of latchkey kids like myself, the drink may have been more of an influence than the films. For reference: the first Ghostbusters movie was released in 1984. The second was released in 1989. The cartoon, called The Real Ghostbusters to avoid confusion with an unrelated Filmation property called Ghost Busters that involved a gorilla named Tracy, ran from 1986 to 1992.
The press release for the re-released Ecto Cooler states the beverage was available through 2001. The drink was sold long after the movies had come and gone, and for around a decade after the cartoon ceased production. The most successful spin-off of the Ghostbusters property may not have been any piece of media; it might have been a juice box with Slimer on the front.
Thanks for your excitement. Stocking #EctoCooler is tricky. It vanishes as soon as it hits shelves. More coming soon to a store near you.— Ectocooler (@Ectocooler) May 30, 2016
And it was chased with incredible devotion after it was removed from the shelves. There has long been a strong secondary market for anything related to Ecto Cooler, from bootleg T-shirts to actual containers of the stuff kept long past their expiration dates. The pop culture site X-Entertainment released an oddly riveting account of trying to figure out if the drink was still being sold under a different name. It was, and that name was Shoutin' Orange Tangergreen.
"Mystery solved," the article stated. "If you can find Shoutin' Orange Tangergreen Hi-C, without the "no stain" label, you have found Ecto Cooler. The road to these findings has been long, sometimes arduous, and full of trips to the grocery store. "
So Ecto Cooler, if you're a certain breed of fan, was a really big deal. Which is why I found myself at my local grocery store on a Tuesday morning, arguing that the release date was yesterday, so why didn't they have any of the drink on store shelves yet?
It's not a reboot with a slightly different flavor. It's Ecto Cooler
"Availability is messy today," the Facebook page for the group Resurrect Ecto Cooler stated, "[which is] probably why Coke buried the release date in the original announcement of Ecto Cooler's return (though we had to tout it on this fan page, making for a bit of a fervor today!)"
Most grocery stores aren't equipped for this kind of launch. This isn't a video game or a movie, after all. It's a drink.
"There just aren't channels for timed brick and mortar releases of juice," the post continued. "When is there hype in the juice aisle? What grocer would foresee this? Never and few. Luckily Coke says they've got loads in the warehouse, waiting to be ordered. That's where you come in, if you want boxes, call your grocer and tell them what they're missing. Coke can't just send product, they have to want it. Provide UPC for ease: 0 25000 03242 4."
So yeah, people are getting surgical about this stuff. The wait for the drink to hit more retail channels feels interminable because, by all, accounts this is the real stuff. It's not just a package. It's not a reboot with a slightly different flavor. It's Ecto Cooler.
"It feels almost redundant to tell you what this means to me," Dinosaur Dracula (and X-entertainment) founder "Matt" wrote in his post about trying the re-released version of the drink. "After all, I’ve been writing about Ecto Cooler for close to fifteen years, dating back to that 'Ecto Cooler Bible' from the halcyon days of X-Entertainment. Ecto Cooler has been the totem animal — well, totem citrus drink — of my entire internet existence."
But it's not just about the business of pop culture nostalgia. That stuff is fun to read because these flavors, these drinks, have such strong sense memories.
"If you’ve never experienced Ecto Cooler, picture Orange Hi-C, but with just enough mysterious nuances to make it decidedly Not Just Orange Hi-C," Matt continued. "It tastes like lunch boxes and playgrounds and untied sneakers."
My own journey was a failure, at least today, but that's not a surprising outcome. It takes time to get this sort of thing on store shelves, and the official Twitter account for the rebooted drink advises patience. Based on anecdotal reports, it's also selling out the moment it hits store shelves, due to its high value on the secondary market.
This still feels like something I have to do, even with the momentary setbacks. Even if the value of the experience is based mostly on the idea of re-consuming my own childhood, along with 41 grams of sugar per can. But I want to taste it again. This is a flavor that may remind me of saving the best part of my lunch for last. Of watching cartoons in the basement of the house in which I grew up, while snacking on giant bowls of the puffy, never crunchy, Cheetos.
These flavors of our childhood are usually slowly outgrown, but Ecto Cooler was removed from sale. We're used to being able to experience what we want, when we want, so the idea of such a formative drink being kept in the "vault" for around 15 years is fascinating.
It's a sensory time capsule, and soon it will be widely available, even if the launch was uneven. For many of us that first taste will be like a shortcut to our memories of being young and having far fewer worries. And that's a feeling for which we're willing to pay.