Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Growing up in the ‘90s, every home in America had at least one Master Cup. The Master Cup stood anywhere from one to two feet tall and could hold an absurd amount of liquid. It kept ice tray manufactures in business and absolutely thrived on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
When you were at a friend’s house playing video games, their mom would come in and say, “Help yourself to the kitchen; we’ve got milk, water, some pops out in the garage.” You’d get up and navigate through their unfamiliar cabinets trying to find the cups.
Plates. Nope. Spice rack. Nope. Ah ha, there they are.
On one side were the glasses. Half short, half tall. The glasses were clear and breakable, which didn’t bode well for my greasy fingers. Next to the glasses, sometimes on a different shelf altogether, were the cups. Cups in the ‘90s were plastic and perfect for my pizza roll fingers. They were always big and colorful; like shirts on Saved by the Bell or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The art ranged from university logos to Looney Tunes characters.
And there, in a row all by itself, was The Master Cup.
Some families installed a spotlight over theirs, others put it behind a layer of glass like it were a museum exhibit. This was off limits. Take it off the shelf, and you were riding your bike home, permanently banned from ever coming back. The Master Cup was reserved for your friend’s dad who would come in like a giant, scratching his belly—hey kids, scuse me—grabs the cup, empties an entire ice tray and puts it under the faucet.
No matter where you were in the country, you had a version of The Master Cup. In Michigan, eight out of ten households had a Master Cup with a faded photo of Barry Sanders breaking a tackle. In Chicago, it was the Bulls starting five. New York had a faded image of Derek Jeter and the ‘98 Yankees. Even if you weren’t a sports family, you still had a Master Cup in the cabinet; usually from McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or the largest Big Gulp size available from 7-11.
Filling up Master Cup meant the rest of the day was going to involve nothing but the couch and the bathroom; which was perfect in the Midwest where half of the year is spent hiding from the winter. In terms of size, these cups held anywhere from 48 to 148 fluid ounces. You could dump an entire two liter of soda in there without fear of an overflow. Fill it up with a carton of milk, and you had enough dairy to dip through an entire box of Oreos or Chips Ahoy.
But Master Cup was always at its best with ice water. And remember, this was the late ‘90’s, so Brita filters were still pretty much science fiction and sparkling water was only available in France. However, with Master Cup, there was no need to run the water through any sort of filter. No need to add any flavor. You’d go straight from the faucet. Straight from a hose out back. No matter what the source, that water always became the coldest, purest water you’d ever tasted; which made no sense because the Master Cup alternated between pop, milk, and tap water without any sort of dish soap in between.
The Master Cup was a rite of passage. Sometime between your 11th birthday and getting your driver’s license, your dad came home with a Super-Sized cup from McDonald’s, ran it under the faucet, handed it over. My child, you are ready. And the cup still smelled like Diet Coke, but you took that first sip, and it was glorious. It was everything you ever hoped for, and you longed for the day when you would graduate from the McDonald’s training wheels to a true Master Cup of your own.
Then something happened...
Life went on. I graduated high school, went to college, got married, and one Bed Bath & Beyond registry later, our cabinets looked like the ones I remember from childhood. Nice breakable glasses on one side, plastic cups on the other. And an absurd amount of coffee mugs.
But there was no Master Cup...
I don’t remember the exact date, but there was a cold Saturday morning when I went into the kitchen, grabbed a regular glass and decided, you know what, no, I don’t want a glass, I want a cup. I want to sit down with a giant Master Cup and watch basketball with enough ice water to last me an entire weekend. I decided it was time to carve out some space on a shelf and go purchase my first official adult Master Cup. One that should carry me for the next 60 years.
I had no idea the journey I was about to embark on. This wasn’t your ‘90’s shopping mall with a whole row of Master Cups available in the front of a Target. I went to two or three stores and couldn’t find anything. Their “cup” section was trying to do too much. Trying to be too sleek. None of the cups were even that big. It seemed like the goal was to save cabinet space, not devour entire ice trays.
These hybrid water bottle cups have over complicated things. Yes, I’m sure it’s nice that the cup is dishwasher safe, doubles as a water bottle, and it’s eco-friendly, gluten-free, whatever else, but they are missing the main point of a Master Cup. Convenience was never Master Cup’s selling point. It didn’t matter that it was awkward to find shelf space, or that it would explode in the dishwasher, no, Master Cup knew how to do one thing and one thing right: hold a lot of liquid.
That’s it. Simple. There didn’t need to be anything else.
But now you can’t find one anywhere.
I left the mall with so many questions. When did the Master Cups disappear? Why did it happen? Who killed The Master Cup?
The first suspect: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He made any location that sold Master Cups feel like they were part of a drug cartel. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe you could get 25-to-life for selling a Master Cup in Manhattan.
Forget that the Master Cup was at its best with ice water, the perception was—and still is—that it serves as a sugary drink trafficker. And I know trends can change, but it feels like the anti-sugar movement is here to stay. The push for a healthy lifestyle keeps getting stronger and stronger. Just look at the clothing. In the ‘90s, the emphasis was on everything baggy; big shirts, big pants. There was room to hide a few love handles. Now it’s all “athleisure.” Yoga pants. Slim fit shirts. Everyone in Chicago looks like they’re either headed to a yoga class or training for the next triathlon.
Health is one concern, and once you pair that with the Master Cup’s perceived negative impact on the environment, it’s impossible to survive both of these passionate groups coming at you all at once. But, again, I think the environmental impact is also an unfair allegation. If the concern is plastic cups will end up in landfills or float around in the ocean, I will counter with the fact that a Master Cup’s literal shelf life is north of 35 years. Every ‘85 Chicago Bears Master Cup is still in use and Master Cup Barry Sanders never retired. You could spend years digging through a landfill without finding a single Master Cup.
Because, if Master Cup was ever chipped, cracked, accidentally sat on, that wasn’t the end. Not at all. You got out the duct tape, or just accepted that it was going to drip a little bit on the couch. Under no circumstance should Master Cup EVER go in the trash. Relationships have ended over much smaller offenses.
Especially now that the Master Cup is facing extinction. I am worried that our grandkids will never experience what it’s like to have a lazy weekend day with the remote control in one hand and a Master Cup in the other. I am saddened every time I see someone reach for another Oreo but not have enough milk left for the dunk. I feel sorry for modern sports stars like Draymond Green or Mike Trout who will never know what it’s like to be immortalized on a giant plastic cup.
Look. Now is not the time to point my pizza roll finger. It doesn’t matter how we got here, who’s responsible, or who’s to blame for the last twenty years of Master Cup decline. What matters now is that we act and we act quickly.
It’s time to bring back The Master Cup.
The more ice trays you have, the less actual cubes.
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