Caffeine Nation

w-Giant-Coffee-Cup75917Some years ago, my brother went to Disneyland with his family and described morning like a science fiction movie. Each resort hotel sells a “bottomless mug” and, at dawn, as the children shake off sleep, the adults drift toward the cafeteria as if it were an alien mothership, clutching their mugs, stupefied, but compelled by something greater than themselves.

In the words of Neil Young in “After the Gold Rush,” “The loading had begun.”

The average American spends $14.40 a week on coffee and coffee products, and according to the National Coffee Organization, more than 300,000 Americans consume at least ten cups of coffee a day. I think I might vibrate through walls at that dosage, but in Chicago proper, you are never more than a quarter of a mile from a Starbucks. When I put my own address into the Starbucks Locator, I’m limited to 50 locations but I can easily reach that. Sometimes, I wonder whether some caffeine-induced hallucination imagines a Starbucks on every corner and if rubbing my eyes will get the Starbucks out of them. When my children were small, watching the second Shrek movie, I noticed people fleeing a soon-to-be crushed Farbucks during some mayhem—firmly gripping Ventis in hand—and running into another soon-to-be crushed Farbucks across the street.

Across the street from my school you will find—surprise—a Starbucks. All day, two or three desperate colleagues inch forward as if Starbucks served air. I know this because I’m with them. I too need a wake-up cup, or the one that focuses the start the day, or the quick cup to stave off lulls during the day, or the cup I sip even when it grows cold.

I’m not ready to repudiate my habit, so, if you’re expecting a hair-yanking rejection of the devil’s juice, I wish I were your man, but I’m a devotee. That warm feeling in my back pocket is my Starbucks card ionized by use. I cling to every jot of evidence of caffeine’s benefits—it’s an excellent training drug for athletes, it improves concentration and learning, it contains anti-oxidants, it may help you stay slim.

So what if cigarette makers once made similar claims? Coffee is the true opiate of the masses.

I’d say I’m in denial, but how can you be in denial and know it? Truth is, I meant to quit out of pure orneriness—I’m no corporate dupe—but always have too much to do. It’s just a bad time, I tell myself, for a caffeine withdrawal headache… or a three-day nap. I’ve been caffeinated almost constantly for the last thirty years.

Someone is going to have to stage an intervention, no coffee allowed. Starbucks, if your spies are out watching cyberspace, listen to my plea. Start closing stores now—diversify into ‘shrooms or peyote—and save us from ourselves.


Filed under America, Chicago, Coffee, Essays, Identity, Jeremiads, Laments, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Worry

14 responses to “Caffeine Nation

  1. Coffee is by far the most addictive substance in the world, but I’ll be the first to say, roll on that addiction. We don’t have many Starbucks at all over here in Oz, but I think they are staging a takeover, beginning with the capital cities. Hence, I have never tasted a Starbucks coffee, but my addiction is a serious one nonetheless. Great post!

    • dmarshall58

      If you are lucky, you won’t like Starbucks coffee when it arrives.You never have to walk that far to reach a Starbucks here, which is a big part of the problem. Even without a store on every corner, however, I’m sure I’d have a bad coffee habit. It’s too strong a word to call it an “addiction,” but I depend on coffee the way some children rely on security blankets. I think about cutting my habit, but then I think, “Why? I like coffee.” I never get very far. Thanks for visiting. –D

  2. I’ve been caffeinated for most of my adult life, and don’t intend to quit any time soon. I totally relate and love this post.

    • dmarshall58

      Thank you. For me, it’s a less a matter of intention and more a matter of necessity. I can’t even picture quitting! –D

  3. its true, Starbucks is the building blocks of Chicago. They’re on every goddamn corner.

  4. Well, I live pretty much next to a university, so needless to say: Starbucks!

    I tend to shun anything that the masses gravitate toward, yet, I have been known to visit a Starbucks every now and again. It’s the kids, I swear. They love the non-coffee drinks.

    I miss the old coffee-houses of the nineties– I know that sounds lame– as if coffee houses didn’t exist pre-nineties– but it’s pre-Starbucks on every corner (at least here in CA). I lived in Pasadena at the time, and the city had just restored Colorado Blvd., previously blocks and blocks of run down and closed up warehouses that had been renting as loft space for artists, but mostly were being used by addicts. The restoration was beautiful, and attracted a lot of artsy types, street musicians, and fledgling coffee house owners– many under the age of 30. (as I was back then. Ahem.) Friday and Saturday nights were really great. Then there was a fire at the “main” coffee house on the block, and as time passed, higher end stores moved in, the rest of the coffee houses moved out, and voila! A Starbucks on every corner. It’s okay though, we also have The Coffee Bean. They’re even in Ralph’s grocery stores. Ha ha.

    The truth is: I’ll buy coffee wherever I can. I’m addicted as well.

    P.S. Neil Young. YES. 🙂

  5. i think we should be more careful with words like “addicted” and “addiction” and not throw them around like that. those are serious clinical conditions referring to real physical metamorphoses in your body rather than more psycho-somatic processes. i understand that you exaggerate to make a point about something you love but all too often i come across messages in popular culture equating coffee with drugs and they’re not joking. it worries me as it, on the one hand, chips away at the perception of seriousness of real addictions and, on the other, adds a layer of unnecessary hysteria to something not so serious.

    i am a coffee drinker. been one since i was, like, four. i love coffee but i can easily live without it as proven by experience when i all of a sudden switch to tea or just water for months. coffee doesn’t define as a cigarette would, for instance. coffee doesn’t keep me awake. instead it makes me sleepy sometimes. so i don’t drink it for the reasons of staying alert. i just like the taste. it is also associated with cosiness in my head, which can be a great source of psycho-somatic dependency and be mistaken for addiction. and sometimes, smelling coffee is just enough for me.

    • dmarshall58

      I went back and changed a little of the language in this post–it’s subtle, but I know you’re right that “addiction” is a big word to apply to such a small thing. I didn’t mean to conflate a coffee habit with the debilitating (and sad) effects of a real addiction. I was just trying to be funny and apologize if I’ve offended… Thanks for visiting. –D

      • oh, now i feel bad. i didn’t want to make you feel like you should change anything. it’s just that recently i come across real initiatives sometimes that call for some sort of “caffeine control” because “it’s a drug”. that’s health and safety gone mad for me and my comment was a reflection of that.

        keep writing!

      • dmarshall58

        Don’t feel bad. I just toned it down. It probably isn’t a good idea to diminish the significance of real addiction.

  6. The thing about Starbucks is the way they even colonize the air. It’s the smell that gets you every time.

    • dmarshall58

      Smell is our unconscious sense. We humans think we’re past using smell the way animals do, but we’re not. I’m not sure many people realize how influential a scent can be, but Starbucks knows. Thanks for your visit and comment. –D

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