I stopped by this morning to watch the drink behemoth in action and came away as perplexed and awed as most of the people with whom I stood in line. It's the most interesting soda experience I've had without Mentos, to be sure. But I still have questions.
Will it cause a robot war? And where is Big Red?
Here's how it works: After ordering whatever Mexican-esque food you prefer, think fast. The machine is immediately left of the checkout counter, and you should begin brainstorming your soda combination early lest you end up spending more than three minutes holding up the line only to settle on Coke. (This happened four times in one hour.) The machine's opening screen (pictured above) separates your options into 22 categories that range from improbable (Hi-C) to traditional (root beer and Dr Pepper) while spanning the entirety of the massive Coca-Cola empire. For reasons unknown to both me and a man wearing cargo shorts with tights, this includes an additional sixteen flavors of Dasani water, which are really the same eight flavors repeated with and without carbonation.
Once you decide which brand you'd like to start with, you might think you're done. But you're wrong, and you're also holding up the line. The machine includes more than 100 options, a reality that becomes immediately understandable once you realize how many versions of Coke there are. Although the machine's line was both considerable and fraught with furrowed brows when I visited during the lunch rush, it was met with an unfair share of quality deductions. "I guess it adds a little adventure to your lunch," one man said to his friend, "but I'm confident that what's in my cup is not what I ordered." (For the record, his cup was strictly for water, so it's also not what he paid for.)
During the hour I spent at Qdoba pretending to eat chips but mostly just watching people, 73 brave souls changed their perception of a soda machine forever. Of those souls, only 9 were brave enough to order anything that was not one straight soda. Thirty-seven people selected plain Diet Coke. Four made robot jokes. One hummed "Mr. Roboto." More than 70 percent looked confused, but one particular group wore expressions that ventured far enough past confusion to appear genuinely disturbed. One of three men who identified themselves, in all seriousness, as nuclear engineers, explained: "It's not that we're confused about the technology. I'm just confused about why it exists."
To which I could only respond: Why not? If you're still unsure about the entire thing, check out the video below or any of its fellow explanations on YouTube, or review the list of pros and cons further below. After that, try it out. The city's list of freestyle soda fountains also includes a machine at the Anthony's Pizza on Colorado Boulevard. Just don't hold up the line.
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Pros: -Newfound awareness that there are more than 100 sodas in existence -Availability of European options -Regression to the ill-fated concoctions of your youth -Voyeurism: The real fun is watching what your line companions order
Cons: -Extended wait time -Lack of one woman's favorite iced tea brand -Unavoidable reality that anything mixed with Coke is disgusting -Two-hand requirement to use the machine -Defeat when you realize the machine is smarter than you -Fear that it will probably take over the world