Coffee. For so many, many people in this world, it is their lifeblood, the spark in their eye, the bounce in their step. It is all things wonderful and beautiful in the world in liquid form.
But not for me.
I’m never liked the taste of coffee. It’s bitter and tastes like I’m chewing tree bark. The concept of drinking coffee for the taste makes about as much sense to me as sitting in a locker room for the fragrance or smashing oneself in the face for the pleasant sensation. And I know that (supposedly) just like beer, it’s an acquired taste that you’ll learn to like as an adult. I acquired a taste for beer. (Boy howdy, did I!) I have not acquired a taste for coffee.
But my disdain for coffee was more than about just the taste. For me, the need for coffee was a sign of weakness in a person. In high school, I woke up every morning at 4:45am, often after less than 5 hours of sleep, and managed to get about of bed and going without caffeine. In college, I looked at my peers, many with a physical dependence on caffeine, and smugly announced, “I never drink coffee. All I need in the morning is my orange juice and I’m good to go.” And working early morning load ins I watched follow stagehands stumble through the morning incoherently, unable to function at full capacity, until 11:00 break when the coffee and donuts showed up, and felt superior. In my eyes, if you needed coffee to get going in the morning that just meant that you didn’t have the strength or willpower to wake yourself up. Coffee was for the weak.
But things have changed. Slowly at first, so I hardly noticed that anything had changed at all, but they did.
It started with caramel iced lattes. Once in a while, and only if I had to get up for work earlier than 7am. The caffeine helped get me through my 40 minute commute, but it was more about allowing myself a treat and giving myself something to look forward to. I may have had to wake up at 4am, but goddamnit at least I was going to get to drink something that had caramel in it!
Then came the iced coffee with a shot of caramel and skim milk. A riff on the latte, really, but with less calories. Which also meant a stronger coffee taste. This acclimated me slowly to the taste; I still didn’t like it, but I could tolerate it. This tolerance opened the door for hot lattes, hot caramel coffees, and cafe au lait. Each drink a little stronger than the last, my tolerance for the taste built slowly, all in the name of enough caffeine to get through those painfully early mornings.
Painfully early mornings that have grown more and more frequent. No longer once every month or two, these mornings have been coming at least once a week, if not more. And there’s no grace period where I get to come in and spend the first half-an-hour or so to sit and stare at a computer screen; no, I have to drop my shit and head down to the loading dock and unload a 24′ truck full of gear. It’s hit the ground running, balls to the wall, let’s do this shit!
Which is how I found myself the other morning standing backstage, holding a coffee, and saying, “What the fuck, this shit is weak. Lame.”
Let’s just say that enough desperate times calling for desperate measures will cause those measures to seem less desperate. And enough long sleep-deprived days have driven me to crave the caffeine I once scorned. I know coffee isn’t the answer. That the real answer is enough sleep, regular meals, and plenty of water, but in a world where those things are a luxury I’ve found that caffeine is a workable substitute for any of the three.
All of a sudden, I’m prowling around backstage to see if anyone has made coffee, and if I can swipe a cup. I’m bugging Kyle to let us take a 15 so we can go downstairs to the coffee shop. I actually have an opinion about what dairy tastes best and know how much shit to put in my coffee to make to taste okay. I still don’t like the taste of the stuff; with a metric ass-ton of dairy and sweetener it’s tolerable, verging on “not bad.” But I like the way it seems to make my blood pump a little more briskly and my synapses fire a little quicker, so I’ll gladly drink the vile cup of liquid weakness.
But just because I’m drinking coffee at work doesn’t mean I’m like the rest of the addicts. We don’t own a coffee maker, and at home I only drink tea. And at work I don’t need coffee, I just like it.
Besides, I can quit whenever I want to.
(I just don’t want to.)