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Mike Wilson: I’m not really a caffeine addict, but …

Apparently I scarred my grown daughters for life by chugging down a Red Bull at 2 a.m. somewhere off I-95 as we raced toward Maryland for the birth of our first granddaughter 16 years ago. (Or perhaps it was witnessing a serious drunken domestic dispute in the parking lot of the convenience store while I was buying it.)

I had to have something to keep my eyes open since they tend to close involuntarily at 10. I guess they do not think of me as a caffeine addict, but I did start quite early…

In my Southern Baptist Memphis household, iced tea — and who in the world ever thought of putting lemon in it? — was the standard beverage for all meals except breakfast for anyone who was no longer bottle-fed. My mama boiled the bags and made it up with little saccharine tablets because they were much cheaper than sugar. In the intervening half century, research has revealed that my children probably should have been born with extra digits, but fortunately we were not lab rats and it did not come to pass.

My dad really loved his iced tea and would have several glasses with dinner, but Mama considered it gauche to have a pitcher on the dinner table, especially in the form of a plastic gallon jug, so he kept it on the floor by his seat to spare himself multiple trips across the kitchen. I wish I had a picture of that scene now (that jug by his feet), only one token of his extremely practical nature. I lost that habit while living for years in Massachusetts, where making or serving iced tea was inconceivable and thus prohibited by law.

I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was a junior in college, and I started with a vengeance. I was going to pull an all-nighter to finish a term paper for a Spanish class, and I wandered over to the snack bar to get some coffee. Unfortunately, some friends came in, and I wound up sitting there and chatting a couple of hours, adding even more procrastination to the original procrastination that had put me in that position. I should not have begun my coffee career by having six or seven cups: my hands were shaking so violently that I could barely type! I wasn’t able to go to sleep until the next night, and I learned my lesson well!

When I think back, I am a little sad that I was not a coffee drinker the summer after my freshman year in college because I lived for eight weeks with a family in Chiapas, Mexico that owned a coffee plantation as well as a general store in the marketplace of San Cristóbal where they sold it. Every morning I awoke to the amazing smell of coffee beans roasting right outside my window, but I never did even try the coffee. I realize now that they must have thought I was insane.

I must confess that today I am so lumpish that I order plain old coffee even at Starbucks, where I would never go of my own volition, occasioning eye-rolls from employees and sometimes other patients there as well. My recurring nightmare — actually the remembrance of frequent real episodes — is arriving at the drive-through microphone and having to recount four or five orders, each one of which would resemble something like “grande skinny caramel macchiato with an extra pump of sugar-free vanilla syrup and an extra shot of espresso and light whip.” Definitely too much pressure; I finally adopted the expedient of pulling up so that the rear window was open to the microphone, and the car full of thirsty and particular passengers could enjoy shouting out their own convoluted orders.

I wish I had had the prescience to buy stock in Starbucks way back when, but if you had told me people would cheerfully stand in a long line to plunk down more than five bucks for a cup of coffee, I wouldn’t have believed you. Of course, in the early ’80s I didn’t think rap would survive either because it wasn’t music.

Mike Wilson is chairman of Modern Foreign Languages at Catawba College.

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