Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

Energize Me

I tried Jolt Cola once or twice in the ’80s. The source of all knowledge says it was introduced in the United States in 1985, and seems to imply that it established the energy drink “category” here.

Coon Rapids Dam, MN

This dam once supplied energy, much like an energy drink, and suggests the urgent need to pee that follows reception of energy drink transmissions.

Although impressed by Jolt’s claim to “all the sugar and twice the caffeine,” and likely in its target market of high school and college kids, I didn’t get into it. I was okay with the carbonated battery acid taste — as any well-trained American consumer should be — but I wasn’t looking for maximum sugar and caffeine.

And it really didn’t taste as good as the other industrial corrosives.

Then, when energy drinks took off in the ’90s, I was in the process of becoming “old” and missed the whole thing. I kept drinking pop — or, “soda,” as the Fundamentalists call it — but energy drinks were something the “kids these days” were doing.

I remained only vaguely aware of the concept of energy drinks throughout the ’00s. I thought of them as another kind of pop, if anything. By this time, marketers were probably more focused on selling me denture cream and adult diapers, and consequently I never had any advertising-prompted urge to try them out. My awareness grew more out of seeing an occasional news report — old people read and watch the news, you know — with some reporter cluck-clucking about the danger of a new and disturbing trend among the young folks.

I’m no stranger to disturbing trends.

While I haven’t been officially diagnosed, it’s possible I may have a mildly addictive personality. I have some limited, practically inconsequential, it’s-nothing-really-I-can-quit-whenever-I-want-oh-who-am-I-kidding-it’s-hopeless experience with addiction and addictive behavior. But not so much with caffeine, despite its oh-so-pleasurable effects on the central nervous system.

I’ve never taken up coffee drinking. You’d think I’d be all over it by now as an essential old guy’s beverage. Although… the kids are all about the coffee now, too. Kids these days. Go back to your energy drinks, you punks.

So my caffeine has always come from pop. (With the exception of short-lived NoDoz and Vivarin experimentation in high school.) In my many years of soda drinking, I’ve gone through periods of downing four to six cans per day, but I don’t think it was about the caffeine. The caffeine in six Diet Mountain Dews adds up, but not as much as a Grande Gigante needle in your arm at one of those coffee dens.

I never felt much of a boost from soda consumption. It was spread out through the day, and I could go right to sleep after a Diet Dew at night. (Waking up soon after to pee, of course.)

And in April 2010 I pretty much quit drinking pop, without suffering withdrawal headaches or missing it that much. I certainly didn’t miss all the logistics that go with a major soda pop habit: The looking for sales at Target and Cub, the loading up of the shopping cart and making multiple trips to get around limits (“What do you mean I can only buy 10 cases?!”), the transferring of cans from shelf to cart to car to storage to fridge to recycling bin, and the warding off of judgmental comments from family and friends.

One thing I do miss, terribly? The hilarious remarks from cashiers when they’d see my pop-laden cart. For example:

You must be thirsty!”

Yes, I’m planning to drink all of this right now, you nitwit.

Maybe you’re thinking I should calm down; they’re just trying to be friendly and make small talk. Well, yes, I do realize this, thank you, but they — and you — clearly don’t understand addicts. We don’t want to draw attention to the problem. And it’s not a problem, anyway. And don’t tell me to calm down. I’m fine. Really.

But I quit drinking pop, and I enjoyed the savings in time and money. I always annualize the cost of my habits when considering their long-term sustainability, and even with good deals, I figured it to be $1 to $1.50 per day for the pop habit. Let’s say $500 per year. Kind of steep for sugar water. And not even that since I mostly drink diet pop, otherwise known as brain-melting aspartame water. (If you believe what you read on the internet and lectures from friends and family.)

I heard someone ask, “What’s all this about energy drinks, then?”

Oh, did it seem like I was leading up to something there, with the opening to this post (a long time ago), and the photo caption?

Well, yes. That. The energy drinks.

It all began — as these things often do — with a free sample.

I kept up my lower cost, lower maintenance, and marginally healthier pop-free lifestyle for over a year, until a time this summer when a variety of free beverages were made available by my employer.

Like most pushers, they had an ulterior motive for the giveaway, but rather than creating wild-eyed tweakers with low sales resistance, they simply wanted to animate their zombie work force for extended hours in support of a big software installation and “go live.”

Have another Red Bull, soldier, it’ll get you through the night.

I didn’t work long hours and nights, thankfully, but I’m always interested in free things. A coworker brought a NOS energy drink back to his desk one day and I thought, “Hmmm.” And then I thought, “I think I might try me one of these energy drinks that those nutty kids like so much.”

It was free, after all. And low cal.

I was curious.

I grabbed one of the gleaming cylinders from the freebie fridge and drank it without first noting the caffeine content, which turned out to be 260 milligrams in the sixteen ounce can. Remember that I’d been drinking virtually no caffeine for more than a year.

I think the state that followed can best be described as “high.” Or maybe it was just a great buzz. I felt the way I do after a few beers. Chatty. I talk too much to begin with, and very fast. My brain was lit up in the most pleasant way.

Drugs, man. And they were giving them out at work! Officially sanctioned!

I didn’t immediately start going down to the corner — chasing the next blast — but I had a familiar feeling of inevitability.

I thought maybe I would have one energy drink on one or two mornings each week, on those days later in the work week where I’m starting to drag. I tried this out, drinking Rock Stars and enjoying a few more precious times that scintillating feeling in my brain. Then, just as Wikipedia warned me would happen, I quickly became habituated to higher levels of caffeine.

And I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it to one or two days per week. Soon it was every day. But just one can. And then maybe a can of pop later in the day to take the edge off. (Or put the edge back on.)

I remember reading the label common to different brands, “consume responsibly - limit (3) cans per day,” and thinking, wow, three cans a day. That would be a lot of caffeine. And dollars. One a day is plenty. But then a funny thing happened. As I started looking for deals and building up an inventory, “limit (3) cans” started reading more like a recommended daily dosage. (To be followed by, “Who are they to tell me I should only have three cans per day?”)

And the “deals?” Recall that I didn’t like spending one dollar per day on my old pop habit. With my new habit, when I see 24-packs of Monster drinks going for $27.25 at Costco, I think, “Ooh… That’s a good price!”

I can see this is a problem, although I’m sure the manufacturers see it differently. They’re happy to pick up another $2 to $6 per day “customer.” I haven’t fully annualized the cost of this thing yet. I don’t want to acknowledge reality.

Another problem indicator: when I stopped at Cub the other night to take advantage of a $1.50 per can “deal” on Rock Stars, the cashier made a strange gasping exclamation when he saw my cardboard bin filled with energy drinks. Oh, great. It’s back to this.

Is there a problem?” I asked sharply.

No. I’ve just never seen it done like this,” he said.

And this was a young guy. And I only had about thirty cans.

What’s wrong with kids these days?