My Pepsi Challenge
By Paul Lukas

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Those who saw no real difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore will find an odd parallel in the cola wars; Coke and Pepsi have been offering essentially the same product for decades (think of RC and Jolt as Nader and Buchanan). But while there are rarely lines outside polling booths, people still line up to vote in the cola world's most famous marketing gimmick, the Pepsi Challenge.

I know that because I took the challenge at game five of the World Series, just outside Shea Stadium. I was heading for the turnstiles when I spotted the Pepsi Challenge booth. Why not? I got in line and waited my turn, which gave me time to appreciate some of the taste test's more sublime details: the little bowl of oyster crackers that were provided to cleanse the palate between sips; the booth staffers who steadfastly refused to intone the word "Coke," instead referring to it as "the other leading cola"; the guy in back of me who kept explaining to his wife that "Coke is less fizzier, see, it's less fizzier."

Interestingly, the five people ahead of me in line all chose Pepsi, prompting someone to yell, "They must've put crack in the Pepsi!" (Ironic, since cocaine was once an ingredient in Coke.) Finally I got to sample the beverages, each dispensed from an unmarked can, and swished them around in my mouth. After careful deliberation, I chose...Coke. The staffers' disappointment was palpable, but they dutifully recorded my vote. As I left, I realized it was the first time in memory that voting hadn't left a bad taste in my mouth.

--Paul Lukas