Crack Open a Can of Buzz Kill: The Absurdity of Energy Drinks

I worked at this fun, though admittedly garish, restaurant called Planet Hollywood while in college. After a particularly grueling week of classes, pummeled by tests and papers, I dragged my weary body into work. One of our bartenders, Gretchen, sat at the break-room table playing with a freshly lit cigarette.

“You look like shit,” she said.

“I feel like I could sleep for a month,” I said, then pointed to a freshly used matchstick smoldering on the table in front of her. “That’s what my head feels like.”

She jabbed her cigarette between her lips then pushed her hand around in her purse. When her hand emerged from the bag it held a little black bottle, like the kind used for undeveloped camera film. She slid the bottle across the table and said, “take one of these. It will pep you up.”

I waved a hand. “No-no, I’m not a drug guy. I’ll be fine.”

She laughed. “It’s not a drug. It’s an herb. It’s all natural.”

“So is cyanide,” I said.

I reached down and picked up the bottle, popped the lid off, then shook out a capsule. When I held the capsule up to the light I could see grainy particles through the translucent casing.

Gretchen blew smoke. “What are you looking for, Einstein? Just take it.”

“You’re sure it’s safe?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Okay.” I tossed it in my mouth and swallowed it down, hung my coat, clocked-in, then went out to the dining room for my shift. For a while I forgot I’d even taken the herb. But then, quite suddenly, I felt this nauseating urgency explode inside me and I could feel my heart beating from my toes to my ears. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I had to keep moving. An army of demons began rioting inside of me. Each one of my 10 trillion neurotransmitters held a whip in its axon, and they all cracked those whips at my muscles, and so I kept hustling.

I cleaned tables, brought waters to customers, explained the specials, and took orders all at triple speed. I must’ve looked like a freak, but I couldn’t slow myself down and, in fact, felt like I should be moving faster.

The whole manic episode lasted about an hour. Then I began crashing.

Fatigue hit me so hard I felt like a vacuum in my head would engulf me into myself. I don’t know how I made it through the shift, but when I got out to my car I fell instantly asleep right there, behind the wheel, in the parking ramp. At 3am Mall of America security knocked on my window to see if I was okay. I nodded and started my car, drove home, and slept until 2pm.

We Don’t Need Energy

What takes more energy: having sex or programming computers?

According to a simple Google search, sexual intercourse burns up to 5 times more calories per minute than writing code. But my suspicion is that nobody feels the need to pound energy drinks before having sex. Yet programmers often consume them all day long.


Well, duh! Because sex is more exciting than programming. Obviously.

But if this is true, which seems self-evidently so, then energy is not our problem. What we’re really trying to conquer with energy drinks is something else entirely. We’re hoping, I guess, that energy drinks will power us through things like monotony, or maybe fatigue.

We all have things to do that are dull and laborious, even when we are doing what we love. If we feel the need to use energy drinks to help us through, it’s probably not a big deal.

But let us not succumb to the spells of marketers and the promises of beverage conglomerates by telling ourselves we have an energy problem. We don’t. I mean, it’s hard enough to find a cure when we diagnose something correctly. It’s impossible when we get the diagnose wrong. If we think we have an energy problem we’ll assume the problem is with us. We’ll tell ourselves we need more energy, or we need motivation.

Such reckless diagnoses lead to equally reckless loose associations. For example: many people assume that passion, and motivation, are each forms of energy. They try to get fired up! Totally charged!

This was me. When I was younger my nickname was Tigger because I overflowed with energy. I contrived much of that energy, intentionally fostering that frenetic fire. I bounced off the walls and believed myself so tireless, so passionate. I wasn’t.

Like so many others, I was misled. Passion is not energy. Passion is far more. It has to be. Some of the most passionate and motivated people I’ve known are not hyper at all.
They are, rather, calm.

Diligent to the point of being dull.

Aggravatingly steadfast (how do they do that?).

For the most passionate and motivated people I know, a “boost of energy” is more of a liability than an asset. It’s a systematic disturbance, a bothersome distraction.

We have lots of problems: monotony, distraction, fatigue, futility, debt, boredom… but energy is not our problem. Heck, even when we are fatigued, energy is not our problem. More often, poor planning (too much scheduled?), lack of discipline (staying up too late?), and lack of self-control (too many Peanut M &Ms?) are the real problem.

The human machine comes equipped with the most advanced recharging power system the world has ever known. Energy is not our problem.

Dan Kent