I sure do feel bad for the bottled water people. Maybe I better explain.
Back in the late 1980's, young upwardly mobile professionals — yuppies, if you recall the term — suddenly had cash to burn. This was the baby boom generation, you see. It demanded the good life — the best of everything.
The baby boomers rejected the simple approach of their cost-conscious parents. To heck with Folgers, they demanded fresh-roasted specialty coffees (Starbucks). To heck with Budweiser, they wanted specialty beers (micro-brews). And to heck with fresh water that poured right out of your kitchen tap, they wanted bottled spring water from exotic mountains.
Older generations never could understand the concept of bottled water. My father (the Big Guy) surely couldn't.
Big guy: You pay money for something that comes out of your kitchen tap?
Yuppy: That's right.
Big guy: But you're paying $10 a gallon for something you already have.
Yuppy: Only the best for me.
Big guy: But water is free.
And so it was that the trendy crowd turned the bottled water market into a gold mine. By 2004, some 41 billion gallons were sold — that's upwards of $100 billion in revenue. But suddenly the bottled-water party is over.
You see, many of the same trendy folks who made bottled water hip have decided to stop drinking it because another trend is more hip.
According to Newsday, bottled water is bad for the environment. It requires some 50 million gallons of oil each year to produce the plastic bottles in which it is contained. Add to that the energy burned to produce and ship it and you have the save-the-environment people breathing down your neck.
Suddenly, cities such as New York are spending big money on advertising campaigns that encourage people to forsake bottled water — that encourage people to drink the water that comes out of their kitchen tap.
Some restaurants are banning bottled water, too.
"We don't look at it as losing money, we look at it as investing in the world," said Del Posto co-owner Joe Bastianich in Newsday. He said his restaurant will make and sell its own mineral water on site using tap water.
That's right, tap water. Tap water is suddenly chic. And I can't think of a concept that better illustrates the nuttiness of our country.
Look, America's fresh, clean, safe water is the envy of the world. Throughout the history of mankind, civilizations sought to pipe water into homes — remember the Romans — and many civilizations are still failing at it.
Any sane fellow knows you don't drink the water when you've visiting Mexico or many other countries on two-thirds of the planet. You don't drink it because it's polluted and poisoned and all kinds of little living entities are swimming around waiting to attack your intestines.
But in America, the water is pure. Virtually every home in every part of the country has a kitchen tap that offers an unlimited supply of it. You pull the tap and out it comes — safe, clean, rigorously-regulated water.
Our tap water is a reflection of our country — a reflection of how incredibly successful the American experiment has been. It's also a reflection of how lazy and ignorant and unaware so many Americans have become — because we take our water for granted.
Until recently, we demanded "better" water — the stuff that comes in bottles. And now that is bad for us, too.
The whole bottled-water concept makes me wonder how many other things we're taking for granted.
Our freedom? In many places around the world, the government runs everything (Cuba, for instance) and the people have nothing —because the government runs everything.
Yet some Americans are eager to dismantle the system that created our wealth, because they think the government can do better — the same people who used to think bottled water was better.
All I know is the older I get, the wiser my father becomes. He knew 20 years ago or more that the bottled-water trend was just that — a nutty trend.
If only the rest of America was as wise as he.