Space for rent 

Three glasses of bubbly, brown liquid sit on the table, quietly fizzing away. But before I can examine them more closely, the lights go out. The Lizard of Fun has sneaked up behind me with a blindfold.

"Okay, take a sip from each, and say which one you like best," it says, handing me the first glass.

"Hang on," I say. "Last time we played this game, I woke up the next morning wearing nothing but a tool belt, my combat boots, and a Surf City T-shirt."

"No, that was the ‘Melrose Place’ drinking game," the Lizard snorts. "This is different. I’m trying to find an official sponsor, and I need to know which one is best."

With some trepidation, I sip the first liquid. It tastes like cola. So does the second.

"Okay, what about the last one?"

I’d know this one anywhere: Atwater Block’s Dunkel lager. "Definitely the best so far," I tell the Lizard, pulling off the blindfold. "Are we done now?"

The Lizard shakes its head. "Which one was Coke, and which one was Pepsi?"

I shrug. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken the Pepsi challenge. "The first was Coke?"

"Wrong!" shouts the Lizard, gleefully. "They’re both Faygo. Gotcha fooled! Wow, this is perfect. Now I just have to start a bidding war."

It begins making frantic phone calls and swigging brownish liquid. I spot a folder marked "Marketing Strategy" beneath a half-empty bottle of Faygo. Aha. ("Hey, don’t spill beer on that," warns the Lizard. "I gotta look professional, you know.")

If the city governments of Huntington Beach, and Sacramento, California, can declare Coke and Pepsi their respective official beverages, the Lizard’s marketing plan figures Detroit can do the same.

"Why not?" asks the Lizard, between calls. "Lotta money to be made. Sacramento might get as much as $900,000 a year for it."

"For what? Selling out?"

"Now, now, freak girl," chastises the Lizard. "Don’t get all huffy and righteous. We’re moving into a new global economy, where whoever has the most money rules the world. There’s no whining allowed: You just gotta surf the wave of the future."

So in Surf City, as Huntington Beach calls itself, the city government agreed to let Coke have full control over soft-drink sales on city property – from parks to sports venues to fire stations to its famed beaches – for the next 10 years, in exchange for an annual infusion of about $300,000 funneled directly into city coffers.

In Sacramento, it’s a more expensive, but similar, deal – Pepsi’s red, white and blue logo will be ubiquitous on city vending machines and soft drink cups for the next decade. The pop company will also refurbish a few city parks, which it will probably get to mark with its logo wherever possible. "Yeah, isn’t that great?" enthuses the Lizard. "They could put little signs on the basketball backboards and tennis courts that say ‘Aren’t you getting thirsty?’ Maybe hit the drinking fountains with signs that read, ‘Wouldn’t you rather have a Pepsi?’"

"No, I wouldn’t," I say. "I don’t like Pepsi."

"That’s why I’m throwing in the beer as a second choice," says the Lizard. "Although it really should be a caffeinated drink. Is there a caffeinated beer anywhere? Maybe we should market one."

In an age where corporate profits are fatter than ever but city governments have to dig under the sofa cushions for enough spare change to buy a few snowplows, corporate sponsorship makes a certain amount of sense. Sick sense, but sense nevertheless.

"Just think of all the sponsorships Detroit could get," grins the Lizard, flipping through a Fortune 500 directory. "It doesn’t have to be limited to an official beverage, either – although I am hoping to get Colt .45 into that particular bidding war."

After swearing me to secrecy ("I still haven’t contacted most of these companies," it whispers. "And I don’t want to let other cities know which ones I’m hoping to score"), it shows me its wish list of potential corporate sponsors for our fair city and its departments.

"Sno-Kone, the official winter treat of Detroit."

"Reddi-Mix concrete, the official pothole filler of Detroit."

"Smith & Wesson, the official gun of Detroit."

"Gamblers Anonymous, the official social club of Detroit."

"What if Detroit decides it doesn’t want to sell out and get lots of money in exchange for some seemingly harmless corporate sponsorship?" I ask.

"Well, then," says the Lizard, pointing to its butt. "I’m willing to sell space right here, for whatever anyone wants to pay."

"You think this idea is really going to fly?"

"It’s already happened," notes the Lizard. "Haven’t you seen the M&Ms painted all over the city? What I can’t figure out is why they keep putting them on such burnt-out looking buildings. Can’t be good for the corporate image."

I look out the window to see which logos the Lizard means. "Huh? Those are Tyree Guyton’s polka dots."

"Hmm," says the Lizard, peering out. "Well. Another beer?

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