David Cook: Roo nation, I salute you

David Cook: Roo nation, I salute you

June 27th, 2012 in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Scottie Mayfield held a fundraiser Tuesday night on Signal Mountain, $250 per couple.

For that much, you could buy 52 gallons of Mayfield's milk ($4.79, before tax, Red Bank Bi-Lo).

"We don't have Mayfield's," said the Kangaroo Express gas station cashier.

Here's what they do have: the Roo Cup.

"I went to five different stores before I found one," said Matt Morman (three refills a day) on Tuesday morning, Roo Cup in hand, standing before 17 fountain drink choices. He drinks Gatorade.

For $6.99, you get a 20-ounce plastic Roo Cup. For the rest of the summer, refills are only 25 cents. (For $250 -- minus $6.99 -- you could get 972 refills).

Last year, Kangaroo made more than 250,000 Roo Cups. Sold out every one. It was like a black market for Roo Cups.

"Some people were selling them for $20 on E-bay," one Kangaroo manager told me.

There is so much happening these days. Scottie Mayfield continues his run for Congress, appearing at more private fundraisers than public debates. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule Thursday on the Affordable Care Act. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to limit soda sizes to less than 16 ounces.

All these issues play out within the drama of the Roo Cup. If you find yourself inside a Kangaroo discussing a reduction in soda sizes ... whisper.

"We'd have people raising Cain," the manager said.

What does it mean to be free? When we as Americans talk about our rights, what exactly are we saying?

If leaders -- or candidates -- are running for office, shouldn't they be as clear as crushed ice about their positions on big issues?

The members of the Roo Nation I spoke with Tuesday -- the morning and lunch crowd -- defended their right to refill as a form of personal freedom and choice. While recognizing Roo Cups were not healthy (240 calories in a 20-ounce soda, says Bloomberg's health campaign, citing the Mayo Clinic) most did not think the solution was found with government regulation.

But why not?

In defending the Affordable Care Act, Reagan-appointed federal judge Laurence Silberman wrote that the government should "be free to forge national solutions to national problems," and few would disagree that obesity and rising health care costs are not national problems.

Thirty percent of Tennesseans are obese, claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tennessee spends about $1.5 billion every year on costs stemming from obesity, claims The Tennessean. Recent research suggests fattening foods -- like sodas -- are addictive.

"They can hijack the brain in ways that resemble addictions to cocaine, nicotine and other drugs," reads a 2011 Bloomberg News story.

But wait: people are thirsty for the Roo Cup.

"So thirsty that more than 10 million refills took place over the 100 days of summer," reads the news release about last year's Roo Cup. "That's more than 35 refills per cup!"

Well done, Kangaroo.

"We know what is bad for us," said the Kangaroo manager who will remain unnamed, "but we should be able to make that decision."

About that time she got tearful. Kangaroo made a decision last year that resulted in higher employee insurance premiums.

"Can't afford it any longer," she said.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.