Jan 4, 201205:00 AM
Shine a Light

New Orleans Community Activism Blog

Jonesing for a Diet Coke

Rachelle Taylor

Photo by Pamela Marquis

I am an addict. My 43-year old dependence is relatively harmless; I am addicted to Diet Coke.

My day starts by slamming back a 32-oz. jolt of caffeine and carbonation. The day continues with two or three more. I am particular about my drink the way a wine connoisseur savors his grapes.

I eschew the plastic 2-liter bottles, though I will drink from them rather than drink - ugh - water. The small plastic bottles are the next least desirable, and then come the cans. What I am always in search of is a properly mixed fountain Coke. I found the best one while living in North Carolina. Every morning I'd start my car for its 3-mile drive to Nirvana, aka Pigg's grocery/filling station. There in a red Coca-Cola cooler was pure heaven: a small glass bottle.  As the top popped the contents would freeze into a delicious slurry. Total bliss!

In New Orleans the best place for the most consistent fountain Diet Coke is the McDonald's on South Carrollton Avenue. Now, at most fast food joints and other McDonald's restaurants, the fountain Cokes taste worse than the 2-liter bottles. Maybe it's because they're old, or the mixture of syrup and carbonation is off or the dispenser needs to be cleaned, but the fountain Cokes at the Carrollton location are almost always perfection.

Especially if Rachelle Taylor is at her window. I can tell the days when she's working because the line moves swiftly. And I know I will get what I order, not a Sprite or regular Coke or (yuck) sweet tea. And I know I will be greeted with the most joyous smile imaginable.  She could give lessons to corporations about great customer service.

I admire people who are good at their jobs: a teacher, doctor, lawyer or someone who works at McDonald's.   Rachelle, who been on and off the fast food track for 20 years, is very good at her job.

“I know everybody who goes through the drive-up,” she says. “I know what they order and what they drink, like 'he's the sausage and egg with no cheese guy.'”

Others must notice her work ethic too; this holiday season she received many, many gifts from appreciative customers.

Though Rachelle has trained to be a nursing assistant and dental assistant, she says the pay at McDonald’s is good and she loves that her hours are flexible.

Rachelle, who is hearing-impaired and a former student at McDonogh No. 24 School for the Deaf and Kennedy High School, says she's truly content with her life.

“My life is set,” she says. “I am comfortable and happy, and the only thing I ever wanted was my house and I have that. I am very blessed."

Rachelle owns a new three-bedroom, two-bath Uptown home on Dryades Street with a porch, backyard and off-street parking. It's a beautiful, well-maintained residence.  Hers was the hundredth family in New Orleans to successfully use a home-buyer program offered by the Housing Authority of New Orleans. After Katrina, in 2008, she switched from receiving rental assistance to receiving mortgage assistance and purchased her home.

Even moving out for months - because of Chinese drywall - didn't dampen her pride.

“I'd work 10 jobs just to have this house,” she says. “It means the world to me to provide this for my children.”

She is the mother of three beautiful daughters ranging in age from 6 to 16. Robin, her eldest, is a junior at Warren Easton Charter High School and plans to get a degree in sports medicine.

“My mom is so hard-working but she always finds time for playing and making us laugh,” she says.

OK ... a week ago I gave up drinking Diet Coke. It's been hard.

But I know it won't be long until I suffer a relapse and drive up to be greeted with a smile and a “Hey, Baby, how ya doin?” to get my Diet Coke from one of the best fast food workers in the city.

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Shine a Light

New Orleans Community Activism Blog

about

Pamela Marquis, MSW is a social worker, community advocate, educator and writer. Most recently, she founded and became executive director of Shine a Light Louisiana, a non-profit agency committed to helping communities and organizers inform the public about their initiatives. She has also worked with the LIFE program, helping Louisiana inmates connect with their families through extended visitation programs.

Pamela worked at the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center for 16 years, where she acted as education curator and summer camp developer. She currently teaches video skills to students in Chris Paul’s CP3 Afterschool Zone and Kid’s Play NOLA.

In addition to her “Shine a Light” column here on MyNewOrleans.com, Pamela is also the gardens columnist for New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles. She also writes freelance for several magazines and has penned three screenplays.

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