“It's good!” Mayor Bob Russell exclaimed after sharing a swig of bottled Lipton tea with Pepsi Brand Communications Director Stephanie Sternberg. Seconds later, a bolt of lightning seared the sky, followed by a deafening roar of thunder.
Within 15 minutes of the kickoff of “Refreshingly Road Trippin’ with Lipton,” a collaborative event between the City of Pontiac and the eponymous tea company taking place in the parking lot of the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum, a storm cloud plotted a course over town and lingered for about half an hour. But even the wrath of nature could not stop the well-oiled machinery of a jointly-coordinated public and private affair celebrating Sunday's National Ice Tea Day.
With the primary downtown artery of Main Street cordoned off south of Howard, with the back entrance of Mill Street Bar safely curtained from view and with the large mural featuring a World War II pilot drinking a Coke deftly stickered over to imply he was drinking Pepsi, Lipton's parent company, all things were finally, meticulously organized ahead of the event's 10:30 a.m. start Friday morning.
A throng of residents, tourists and city officials, at times 100 large, began gathering in the street and parking lot for the event's inauguration. Sternberg was the first to speak to the assemblage.
“Lipton, as I'm sure you're familiar, has been at the center of celebrations and memories for generations,” said the corporate exec. “From backyard barbecues, to graduations and, of course, summer road trips. And when it comes to summer road trips, what's more iconic than Route 66?”
After mentioning paying homage to TripAdvisor, Instagram and Bernardi's, she introduced Russell, the “one person in particular who embodies the spirit of Pontiac and Route 66.”
Russell welcomed all those in attendance, saying that he was “very honored that Lipton has chosen the City of Pontiac to host Lipton and to celebrate National Ice Tea Day.”
“I've got to be honest with you,” he continued. “Before this, I didn't know there was a National Ice Tea Day, but I'm glad there is. Lipton has been a mainstay, for sure, in this area as well as everywhere else for picnics, for family reunions, for any kind of get together for as long as I can remember, and I'm getting older, so that's been a long time.”
Besides the nods to Lipton, the mayor gave rave reviews of all of the museums, restaurants, and sights and sounds of downtown Pontiac, thanking Bernardi's for its cooking of free food in the parking lot. In addition to its own menu, Bernardi's staff cooked foods of restaurants dotting Route 66 all throughout the country, from Cozy Dog Drive In in Springfield to Le Roy’s in Monrovia, Calif.
Russell said that in honor of the weekend festivities, the city would briefly rename a section of Main Street “Lipton Highway,” the downtown part that was isolated and inaccessible by vehicle. Afterwards, Russell and Sternberg rallied a five-four-three-two-one countdown for the unveiling of the city's new Lipton mural, which had been visible to passersby for the last week.
While the thunderstorm briefly halted the event once the ceremony concluded, it safely resumed once the storm passed and lasted until 1:30 p.m. The “Refreshingly Road Trippin’ with Lipton” event will conclude Sunday. While the Pepsi sticker on the aviator's mural will presumably be removed at that juncture, the Lipton mural will remain as a reminder of the time Pontiac was, for three whole days, “Lipton Central.”