This Darned Perky World
by Peter Zelchenko May 29, 2009

Man, am I burned out.

How much coffee did you drink this week? I had more than I usually do, because I had to get a lot done, and now I'm just completely burned. Every week, I have one or two "coffee days" for big days when I know I'll have to work extra hard, or speak, or argue with a judge about a parking ticket or something, and "tea days" for when I know I won't have to fight the rat race so hard, and then I have "nothing days" where I don't take anything special. Most of my friends have seven "coffee days" a week.

If only the world didn't pull us all that way, we wouldn't need it.

But if you don't drink coffee, you won't be as productive as the person in the cubicle next to you. In fact, since more than half of Americans drink three or four cups of coffee a day, you'll be the least productive person on any team. In today's economy, "I don't like coffee" is probably the last thing you want to say during a job interview; you've really got to be drinking more than the next guy on the list to make the cut.

Sounds like a compelling reason to start taking the drug.

You see, I have this pet theory. (What, another one?) Yes. (Do we have to hear it?) Yes, of course you do.

My theory is that America would not be the international engine it is today if it weren't for the prevalence of caffeine in our business culture. Instead, we'd be a commercial backwater. We'd all be busy struggling to learn Mandarin and Hindi and sending our kids to sweatshops, instead of the other way around. We'd still be driving old 1950s Chevys, like they do in Havana (which, by the way, would be our capital). Bill Gates would be pumping gas on some lonely road in some dusty suburb of Seattle. There'd be no such thing as Simpsons or Family Guy, since we'd still be watching Flintstones reruns. Verdad?

I thought Mayor Daley had spent a lot of money on Olympics advertising, when he splattered the expensive logo on every cab, bus, train, screen, and airport in the city. But right on its heels we saw the Starbucks VIA ads all over the city, and now we see the Nescafe ads on their heels. Billions just to promote little packets of instant adrenaline. And, just for the kids, last week Dr. Pepper/Snapple was passing out Venom Energy Drink at CTA stations citywide. Literally, like candy. It's the biggest drug war we've seen yet, and it's being fought in our middle-class minds!

Yep, without caffeine culture, we'd be nowhere. I don't have any hard data on this yet, but I hope to have a study done really soon. I just need to determine the number of milligrams of caffeine consumed by Americans for the last 100 years and compare it with the per capita intake in other countries that aren't doing so well, such as Canada and Mexico. I need historical GNP data. Oh, I think I'll also need to find populations inside the U.S. that for various reasons don't drink as much coffee, and measure their success in business. (Mormons? Minorities? Acupuncturists? Are you starting to see the pattern now?)

(Incidentally, guess where and when instant coffee was invented: Right here in Chicago, almost exactly 100 years ago, just when Chicago was gaining international prominence as a world commercial center. Now do you believe me?)

Hmm. I guess I'll also need to take into account tolerance factors, since humans are pretty good at needing more and more caffeine to get the same high. Wonder how I'm going to do that. I might need to conduct my own experiments. Need a budget for that. Need coffee for that.

All right, fine. It's not going to be "really soon" when I finish my study. I'm so burned out I don't even feel like thinking about it anymore.

Look. Coffee is a drug, okay? It's the drug of choice for American business. Show me a business that doesn't somehow endorse coffee culture and I'll show you a business that's failing. The Merck Manual of Medical Information, the medical industry bible, used to have a classification of overdose of caffeine. They called it caffeinism. Guess what. It's disappeared from the books, just when it's most relevant. If that's not a conspiracy, I don't know what is.

I told my shrink about this theory of mine. Know what she did? She just smiled efficiently (yes, it's possible to do that; try it) and wrote something perky and significant on her notepad. Then she put the notepad and pen down right next to -- you guessed it -- right next to her 24-ounce Starbucks mochaccino. Right next to that coffee cup with that efficient corrugated cardboard koozie thingie around it. Right next to her IV. She wasn't fazed, not one bit. She had no conception how deep in she was. And neither do the rest of us.

So I'm not just imagining this stuff. It's real. It's here.

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