COKE MACHINE, NEAR CORNER OF JOHN & BROADWAY You've seen it. Just east of Broadway on the north side of John Street, there it sits, scuffed and askew, its only neighbor an equally clobbered phone booth. Both devices seem to be from another time, like '70s relics ejected from a satellite time capsule and crash-landing on Capitol Hill. The aura of '70s suburbia surrounding the pay phone and Coke machine borders on the surreal; rub your eyes and you can imagine Mackenzie Phillips, a teenage willow in flares, plunking down her quarters for a Mr. Pibb from this very machine, then dialing her dealer from this very phone. But it isn't the '70s, and you don't want to rub your eyes, because you've just stumbled on Seattle's most terrifying vending machine.
Like all truly frightening things, the Coke machine near the corner of John and Broadway is mysterious to the core. How did this hunk of spray-painted metal and faux wood paneling come to be here, across from the weird-smelling bookstore and in front of the funky key shop? Who owns this Coke machine? Who restocks it? There are no answers.
This cruel fact the Coke machine seems to rub in our faces. Beyond the standard options--in this case, Coke, Mountain Dew (regular), 7 Up, Barq's Root Beer, and Pepsi, designated by name on brightly colored buttons--there is one more button. This is the Mystery Button. Mystery it reads, with question marks placed menacingly next to the first and last letters. Both the word and the marks were made with fading colored mini-markers. It's terrifying.
When you insert 55 cents and push the Mystery Button, the selection of soda is left to the powers inside the Coke machine--powers as sinister and diabolical as Joan and Melissa Rivers. One afternoon in early October, a brave Stranger staffer put $5 of quarters in the Coke machine, each time pressing the Mystery Button. The staffer received two Cherry Cokes, two Dr. Peppers, two Fanta Pineapples, one Fanta Strawberry, one Country Time Lemonade, and one Mountain Dew Code Red. Not one of these sodas was listed among the original available options. Terror triumphs as chaos reigns, and the Coke machine near the corner of Broadway and John is possessed by Satan himself. DAVID SCHMADER