I’m tapering off coffee again. I am now down to only a single cup per day (a couple of weeks ago it was 3-4 cups of coffee and 4-6 shots of espresso). This morning as I finished my first coffee and thought about my second one I remembered how the first try at giving up coffee went.One morning at age 20, after having given up coffee for 2-3 weeks, I drive over to my parents’ house and spend a couple of hours with them. After I leave, I decide I will take a roundabout route home instead of the usual 20 minute drive.Around noon, as I drive down Route 5 in Vermont I pass a hand-lettered sign outside a gas station. It reads simply: “Fresh Coffee”The words burn in to my brain. “Fresh Coffee”. It sounds like the best thing you could imagine. It conjures up the image of cool misty mornings, warm coffee, reading books, or the inspiration to write them. Ten seconds later I make a U-Turn and go back to the gas station. I pour myself a large coffee and grab a sandwich for lunch.
Though it is only gas station coffee, it is pure heaven. Four sips later, I decide that being in the car, listening to music and drinking coffee is the best place in the world for me. Why not prolong it? Instead of taking a left turn and going home in 15 minutes, I think “If I turn right here, I can be at my friend Tanya’s house in Manchester in a little over an hour.” And so off I go. I arrive in Manchester and call Tanya’s number but nobody is home. No matter, I’ll go kill some time at Friendly’s Restaurant. I grab a coffee and some dessert. At Friendly’s they don’t just give you a cup of coffee, they give you an entire carafe, several big mugs full.
I sit, eating my carrot cake and drinking coffee, until the entire carafe is gone. That means my time here is done. I pay my bill, try Tanya’s number one more time and get no answer. No problem. It’s still only mid-afternoon, I’ve got a car and music to listen to. And wait a minute… I’m just north of Massachusetts. It’s only a couple of hours drive to my friend Jodie’s school. I’ll go there!
Off I go, picking up another coffee along the way. The sunset is beautiful as I climb over the Berkshire Mountains and roll in to Amherst, Massachusetts. Jodie is home and I join her and her friends for dinner in the college dining hall and then watch an episode of a relatively new show I’ve never seen before, The Simpsons.
Jodie has to study and the road is calling me so I leave. As I go I realize that it is only a couple of hours’ drive to the other side of Massachusetts to see my friend Johanna. It would be too late when I arrive but I could grab a hotel for the night and say hello in the morning.
I drive further south, coming to the crossroads where I have to turn east again to Johanna’s house. But then a sign catches my eye. My original plan would take me towards Boston, but the sign pointing straight says “New York City” on it. I imagine myself going to the city, driving in to Manhattan, stopping at a diner, maybe having a night like Griffin Dunne did in After Hours. How can I pass up such an adventure?
And so I continue south. Me in my little Toyota station wagon, surrounded by 3-4 lanes of mostly 18 wheelers. I entertain myself by flashing my lights for them as they pass, letting them know they’re safe to merge in front of me and smiling as they flash their lights back in thanks. I listen to talk radio shows with people looking for advice and turn it up when I like the song. This song, in particular, comes up several times throughout the night.
It’s getting late but traffic is still building. More lanes of traffic are added and they’re being filled with cars. The parallel seas of red lights ahead of me, and white headlights coming to me grow and I’m excited. I’m an adult, I I live on my own, I’m going to New York City and I don’t even have to ask anyone for permission. I can just go.I’m getting hungry so I pull in to a rest area and buy some food atMcDonalds. I’m bored with coffee and so I buy a large coke instead. I eat the food and bring the coke with me as I drive.Soon I make it to New York and am sailing along the Cross-Bronx Expressway. I don’t know anyone around me but I feel a kinship with everyone. We’re all late-night drivers, going somewhere together. We are, like Will Rogers says, friends who just haven’t met yet.
Now the radio doesn’t just have talk radio and rock and roll on it. There’s hip hop and house music on it. And there’s no country music to be found. I feel like I’m coming home.
And now I’m in the North of Manhattan. I’m not sure what direction I should go in and there’s nowhere to stop and look at a map. I see a sign for the George Washington Bridge and it sounds like a really cool idea to ride across a giant bridge. I’m even more excited when I see it is so big I have a choice of going in the upper or lower level. I choose the upper level to see if I can see any famous buildings.
I don’t see the World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. But I see so many tall buildings lit up even this late at night. It’s exciting to imagine that I’m in a place where don’t stop happening at 9:00 at night. They never stop happening.
I reach the other side of the bridge and I’ve entered another state: New Jersey. I decide that New Jersey isn’t nearly as promising a destination as New York and so I get off the next exit and turn around. It’s probably about time to head home anyway.
I pay the toll and head back across the bridge, zooming along with all of my new Northbound friends. I’m going back home, where are they all going?
It’s after 1:00 AM now well over 12 hours after the u-turn that started it all. Without the anticipation of the big city, I’m getting tired. I stop at another gas station and get some more coffee and turn the radio up louder. It’s not keeping me awake enough, though, so I open the windows hoping the fresh air and wind will keep me awake. But it’s no good. I need to stop to get some sleep. I pull off the road in Springfield, Massachusetts and stop at a motel to get a room for the night. They ask me for some ID showing I’m over 21 because, they say, kids have trashed hotel rooms and run off. I hand them my ID that shows I’ll be 21 in just 3 months. It doesn’t matter to them, nor does the fact that I’m risking falling asleep driving. They tell me to keep going. I buy another coke from the vending machine outside the motel office and get back on the highway.
I drive another hour north and am back in Vermont. The coke has helped some but it is nearly 4:30 AM. I need some sleep. I see a sign for a rest area in Putney and pull in there. My car is the only one there and there’s not even a rest room building. Just a space on the side of the road. I lock all the doors in the car, lean the seat back as far as it’ll go and fall asleep.
Now I’m back on the road again, there’s a lot more traffic. I think I’m somehow back in Connecticut. The radio is playing loud. The good news is, though, that I’m not tired. I change lanes to pass a big truck and suddenly in my lane there’s a van stopped. I slam on the brakes and close my eyes, bracing for impact.
The impact doesn’t come, I open my eyes and am startled to see it is full daylight and I am parked in Putney, Vermont. I rub my eyes and start off again, driving the hour or so to get home.
When I get home at 9:00 AM I’m exhausted again. I lie down in my bed. Sleep doesn’t come, though. Every time I am almost asleep I start awake, my body reminding me that I must be driving and I cannot afford to fall asleep at the wheel.
In the intervening years I’ve tried and succeeded, and then failed again at giving up coffee, but no experience of failure was anywhere near this fun.