Listen, if you’re not a coffee drinker, I understand fully that other people’s preoccupation with this bitter, hot water gets pretty tiresome. You might even feel a little smug that you are not beholden to what is, if we’re honest, as close as we dare get to legal cocaine. But the whole point of the Useless Reviews is a sort of smug bemusement. In some ways this one is not for you. At the same time, I think it’s entirely for you.
In reviewing sleep, uselessly, last week, it occurred to me that a follow up review on not-sleep might also be not helpful, which is what I’m here for.
My favorite cocaine joke, incidentally, is this: I really hate cocaine. It’s awful. But it smells amazing.
In many ways comparisons to cocaine are just cheap yuks. They’re also entirely apt. Cocaine and caffeine are both powerful stimulants, and it’s this exact quality which has led to cycling’s long association and obsession with coffee. Riding a bike is really tiring. It seems like the longer you do it, the more tired you get. Might just be me, but I think that’s right.
We quaff electrolyte suspensions until it feels like our teeth are wearing little sweaters, and then we drag our broken bodies home to the coffee or beer, or both. The coffee says, “I WANT TO LIVE!!” The beer says, “I GIVE UP!!”
When you’re tired, what you really ought to do is sleep, but one of several things might make that impractical. You might: 1) be standing by the side of a busy road. 2) be right in the middle of “daytime.” 3) be still on your bike’s saddle, still pedaling. 4) be the only one with the route loaded into your Garmin. 5) be racing actually, or 7) be too high on cocaine to get your eyelids to close. There are other valid reasons for not being able to nap, power nap, or shut your eyes and hope that a new day will deliver you from all mortal suffering, but I think I’ve covered the top 7 here pretty accurately.
As an endurance athlete and a chronic depressive, you can imagine that going to sleep is pretty much my absolute favorite thing to do, but society doesn’t value sleep. It’s ok for me to tell people I’m a bike rider. They look at me askance when I say, “I’m a sleeper. Sleeping’s my hobby. I’m wicked good at it.” No one takes me seriously when I say that. They chuckle awkwardly, because it’s not a very funny joke.
In fact, I’m not joking.
One big problem is that I’m not that good at sleeping anymore. Maybe it’s the imminent demise of our species and planet that keeps me up at night, or maybe it’s some poorly understood hormonal thing that happens to older men, manopause perhaps, but I mostly open my eyes before the sun rises and lay there in a stew of low-level stress until the alarm tells me it’s ok to go downstairs and make the coffee.
Oh, right. Coffee. That’s what we’re here for.
I never drank coffee regularly until my kids were born, at which point sleep became not possible, and no one seemed ok with me just laying down in the hallway at work or under my desk, so I started partaking in the ritual my wife had already cultivated and pretty soon I was as hooked as a Taylor Swift song, except unlike TayTay, coffee didn’t make me want to remove my ears with a penknife.
Here’s a thing to know about me. I have a propensity for ritualized drug use that produces positive (and let’s be honest negative also) results. Coffee was a natural for me. Michael Pollan says it’s ok. And so between endorphins derived from such licit behaviors as bike riding and more bike riding, and caffeine, derived from warm, delicious hot and cold beverages in titanic quantities, I feel I’ve arrived at a drug cocktail that is not going to kill me AND is mostly socially acceptable.
This brings me to the difficult part of coffee drinking, the question of quality. This is where I suspect non-coffee drinkers begin rolling their eyes and wishing we would just shut up and take our drugs in secret like everyone else does. Coffee and cycling both lend themselves to fetishization. Like, any beardy dude in knickers and a tweed cycling cap is the equivalent of an Ethiopian pour over with notes of hibiscus and elderberry. I mean, if you enjoy that sort of thing, ok, but maybe we don’t all need to hear about it.
People talking about their coffee is like listening to a friend’s latest poetry or a long entry from their dream journal. It’s like being invited to someone’s kid’s grade school play or having a marital fight recounted to you in excruciating detail along with side commentary. It’s my kids explaining video games they like to me.
Sadly, life serves up these entertainments, but it also serves up coffee as a means of getting through it all. If you’re not a coffee drinker, but you’ve read this far, it’s time you got over yourself. Get on the java wagon. Figure out if you’re a fancy espresso drink or a cup of black Folgers, a delicate floral African brew or just Chock Full o’ Nuts. Resistance is futile when the drugs are this good and the party, unfortunately, never stops.
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