My 8 year old’s big plans for this past weekend: “Can we go to the Mystery Soda Machine? You really don’t know what’s going to come out and then you have to drink it no matter what it is. The buttons just have question marks all over them. And it’s really dirty.” Nobody knows who fills it, it’s empty until you put your coins in, and there’s a magic rule that you have to drink what you get.
That machine has been there for as long as I can remember. Seems like it only had one “mystery” button before, though. Now they’re all “?M?Y?S?T?E?R?Y?” buttons. It’s been forever since I even paid attention to it.
Adding to the silliness of the whole thing, the mystery was amplified by my never letting on that I knew exactly where we were going and that there was nothing actually mysterious about the mystery soda machine in any way and I have walked by it (with both of them!) more times than I can count and have lived around the corner from it more days of my life than I have not.
So as we were getting ready to go, my 8 year old was concerned that his 5 year old younger brother might not like whatever it is that he gets, especially if it was a cola of any sort since he sees cola as his cool, older kid drink – like little kid equivalent of coffee or something – so he had me pour his brother a sip of coke to see if it would go over well. Because, you know, the mystery soda machine requires you to drink what it gives you, EVEN IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT.
It took a while to get through all the tickling and giggling, but eventually he picked up the glass and put it up to his lips. Finally, just about to take a sip, he pulls back and says, “I’m scared.” I was too busy laughing at these two to even pay attention to whether any soda actually made it to his palate.
I considered stopping by the *NEVER FUCKING OPEN* keysmith shop it’s in front of to get my constantly, mysteriously (well, not exactly mysterious either), disappearing LOST KEYS duplicated. It wasn’t open.
It was a perfectly spooky way to spend our weekend since Halloween season is still a little more than a week off for my household.
Seattle’s Mystery Soda Machine was described by The Stranger over a decade ago and I saw it pop up on Atlas Obscura a couple of years ago. I think that’s from one of my favorite-ever issues of The Stranger about the scariest places in Seattle. I couldn’t find the whole thing though. The one about the “New” Seattle library was so awesome. If I can find the whole issue again I might plan a Haunted Seattle tour for my kids as we head into Halloween season. There was also this amazing story in The Stranger a few years ago about the spooky Volunteer Park cemetery that I rediscovered while hunting for the others. It’s well worth the read.
Mystery Soda Machine Demystified
So, anyway, when we got to this super boring Seattle landmark, akin to the stupid gum wall that has people lined up to take selfies with, THERE WAS A LINE FOR THE MYSTERY SODA MACHINE. It’s a crappy little soda machine in front of a house that was converted into a keysmith shop that’s never open and right now there’s 200 miles of construction fencing and warning signs in the general vicinity, and there was a line to buy 75¢ cans of soda where you don’t even get to choose what you’re paying for. And it’s a coke machine that dispenses Pepsi products.
We waited for all the pictures to be taken by the posing thirsty people and put about $10 worth of quarters into the machine. The first two to come out were Grape Crush and Grape Fanta. I was pretty ok with that because you don’t really see those in the grocery store very often. Grape sodas were my favorite as a child and those were the first my kids opened up when we were done.
My oldest thought it would be really great if there was root beer in there because it’s the only soda that we’ve ever seen his brother enjoy and he kept reminding us. It was pretty sweet to see that he was so considerate of how his brother might enjoy this experience. And, out of nowhere, up rolls Matt Fay like a ninja! We chat, the kids are super excited to tell him about the secret, mystery soda machine and he’s all, “hey, can I get in on this action?” So the kids get a couple more sodas and we step aside for a sec to let Matt get his soda. Yeah, Matt f’ing Fay, ninja, walks away with the only f’ing root beer in the whole mystery soda machine. (Sorry Matt, that was just too funny to not take the opportunity to ruin you.)
The next soda deserves a paragraph all to itself. Tab.
After Tab, it took like 6 insertions to have every 3 coins accepted, on average. And then we got ginger ale, Squirt, a Real Sugar Vanilla Pepsi (yeah, what?), pink lemonade (3% real lemon juice!), and 7-Up, among others. It’s more soda than we’ve ever had in the house at any given time and I thought it would last us a few weeks. That was Saturday and today is Monday (for a few more minutes) and the only thing left is Tab. My kids have never cared for soda at all. So this truly is a mystery soda machine.