Pop & Lock — Mystery Coke Machine

Seldom does an inanimate object garner mysterious human characteristics, from mundane inception to public mythical status. In the last five years, the Coca Cola machine on E John Street in Capitol Hill has legitimately taken on an intriguing life of it’s own.

Locals call it the “Mystery Coke Machine.” Currently, as an enigmatic source of conversation, the unofficial Capitol Hill monument has become an international tourist destination. The machine is located at the intersection of 10th and John Street, in front of a locksmith. Amateur soda connoisseurs will frequently enter the adjacent Broadway Locksmith -from open to close- to inquire about this peculiar footprint occupied by the three-by-five foot rectangle.

“It’s weird,” said Broadway Locksmith employee Erin Westegaard. “We just had a guy from Oklahoma come here. He said he made the trip to Seattle just to see the Coke machine. A bunch of people from Germany and other countries keep showing up to check it out.”

The Mystery Coke Machine is graffitied and rusting, but operates flawlessly. All eight buttons are musty brown while the “mystery” signage inside the plastic rectangular buttons are water stained and barely visible. Local storytelling keeps the machine’s mystique and personality alive and well. A modern watering hole, the oddball red and white aluminum box is a subtle reminder of a simpler time; when one 12 oz can of Coke was under a dollar. A 12 oz can in many machines at SCC will run student customers north of $2. In the wake of city-wide gentrification, the outdated machine represents the final reminder of a culture prior to manicured storefronts and new buildings.

When asked about updating the Mystery Coke Machine to a modern model, Westegaard remarked, “I hadn’t even thought about that. I’d probably be a little bit depressed about it. It’s got so much character. We’ve talked about maybe having somebody paint it, so that it looks original again. But all the graffiti just adds to the ambiance of the machine and the mystery. So you don’t want to change anything about it.”

Local machine folklore tells of hooded men arriving to refill the Mystery Coke Machine shortly before dawn. But pictures of machine refills in broad daylight have surfaced on social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and the machine’s Facebook page. Regardless, locals enjoy manifesting their own crafty narratives and machine-centric character traits. Some SCC students visit the Mystery Coke Machine for fizzy and sugary carbonation so frequently, they’ve actually forgotten how many times they’ve parted ways with seventy five cents.

“I don’t know the exact number but it’s been quite a few purchases over the past couple years,” said SCC student Mario Lemafa. “Its presence in and of itself is a bit enigmatic and bizarre. It’s been pretty reliable. Expect a can of pop to land every time.”

Locals love the Mystery Coke Machine with an undying affection usually reserved for humans and animals. Through clever imagination and anecdotal conversations, the Mystery Coke Machine has blossomed into a metal box with a metaphysical heart. To Capitol Hill residents and SCC students alike, an antiquated graffitied, Coke machine is a mystery for the ages, for all ages. A time-tested story to be told, then enjoyed, by people from all over the world.

“One time I hosted a Mystery Detective Bureau gathering and purchased about 9 cans of pop to bring along with some other ‘mystery’ food and drinks,” said Lemafa. “I had to wait in line for a couple minutes, however, as there were a couple folks including a pair of traveling women from Iceland, who had heard about the Mystery Coke Machine and decided to visit it. There was even a cab driver who stopped by in front of it that summer day. Good times.”

By Jack Pappin

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