Published May 01, 2014
It was a scorching hot Oklahoma summer day when Todd Stallbaumer and I pulled into Pops, the newest Route 66 attraction in Arcadia, near Oklahoma City. Though you can buy gas there, Pops is much more than a gas station; the roadside attraction combines food, architecture, neon Americana and the world’s largest collection of soft drinks.
A 66-foot-tall soda bottle at the roadside welcomes Route 66 travelers to Pops and sends the message right away: This stop is all about soda. Our visit happened in the midafternoon; at night the landmark sign comes into its own, sketched out against the dark sky with ring upon ring of LED lights.
The building itself is a feat of architectural design: A 100-foot-long cantilevered canopy stretches out from a base of Oklahoma red rocks and iron trusses to shade the gas pump and front entrance.
The most spectacular view, though, is inside the store and restaurant, where thousands of soda bottles create a rainbow of sugary color. The refrigerators house more than 600 varieties of soda drinks, including numerous rare and regional drinks with origins in various parts of the country. I happened to see Cheerwine, a cherry-flavored drink indigenous to North Carolina, as well as the elusive Ale-8-1, a favorite of locals in central Kentucky.
The large menu gave a welcome respite from the heat of the day. After poking around a while, I settled on a bottle of ginger beer, a robust, spicy soft drink popular in Jamaica that is difficult to find in the United States.
Looking back on it, I can see that it didn’t make much sense to choose a spicy soda on a hot day. But the beauty of Pops is that there will always be some other interesting option to try there, no matter how many times I return.