The Wide Angle: Coffee leads to pica pole abuse

Published 1:21 pm Sunday, September 18, 2016

Over the last year, year and a half I’ve put in a notable effort to cut back my coffee and caffeine intake.

This has not been easy.

I’ve been a hardcore coffee drinker since college, ironically the same place I was introduced to other drinks. Ahem. Moving on.

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It started, not so ironically, in the South Dakota State University journalism department’s small study room and main office — which evolved into a break room for a small group of us who made coffee drinking and, break-taking a study of its own.

So aside from my mass communications and history majors (and the because-I-had-the-classes sociology minor) I majored in coffee-drinking and boy did I jump on that course study.

In a lot of ways I’m like a whiskey enthusiast. Never deluding the whiskey with anything else except maybe the “rocks” it is poured over, I took my coffee black and strong. No sugar, no cream, no iced-coffee and certainly no lattes or fancy things like that.

You’ve seen me. I’m about as fancy and refined as granite.

I’ve tried them all, but never really got into any of them. Also, plain coffee is cheaper and I don’t have to juggle the heady debate of coffee or car payment.

Instead, I liked the truck-stop coffee. Bitter and strong. Yeah, baby. The kind of coffee that could keep you up for days, which let’s be honest it was college. Coffee got you through many of, shall we say, recoverable mornings.

My dive into coffee enthusiasm was helped along by my environmental conditions. Much like climbing a mountain, we drank the coffee because it was there. I can’t remember if it was free or we were encouraged to pay something. Either way it was cheap.

Why do you climb a mountain? Because it’s there. Why did I drink the coffee? Because it was there.

Our morning usually went like this. Get up, get to the school and race for the office where we would all take our assigned seats, with coffee in hand and commence being loud and arguably obnoxious, though we preferred to see ourselves as charming.

We added something to the day-to-day running of the journalism department I think. What that was I suppose depended on largely who you talked to. The office assistant and sometimes babysitter Betty Nelson should vouch for us.

Betty is a gem and she made the coffee-drinking we celebrated each day part of the fun I remember today. Her laugh was infectious and she was always ready to humor us in some fashion or another, which was pretty simple. We were easily amused.

Also, she kept the coffee perfect, which in our little crew was paramount. It made getting assaulted by a pica pole, a relic for measuring things in the good ole days, a little easier to handle.

Ever been hit by a pica pole? It’s not pleasant, but I had it coming, so there’s that; however, that’s a story for another day. The point is, it was all part of the coffee drinking experience.

Fast forward to my first job in Huron, South Dakota, at the Huron Plainsman and my coffee drinking took on habit-forming levels. Both myself and then photographer and world-class laugher Brent McCown would pretty much be responsible for the coffee intake at the Plainsman, even going so far as taking our coffee and standing out front of the building on cold and snowing days.

“Why?” you ask. “Because,” I answer.

It was part of the social aspect of coffee-drinking. Sometimes I think it was competition between the two of us to see who was the better coffee drinker.

I was thinking of going pro at the time.

Nevertheless, my coffee-drinking reached such heights that I was high-strung for most of the day and then crashed later in the afternoon, thus beginning the cycle — the glorious black-liquid fueled cycle — full circle again.

It didn’t matter. We were young then (that might be my single-most hated sentence ever). It didn’t matter really.

I brought my coffee-loving to Austin with me, but now I’m getting to the point where it’s just too much. Sleeping can be interesting if I drink too much. Nothing like staring at the ceiling and contemplating the idea of hearing each blood cell rushing through my veins.

They sound like turkeys if you’re curious.

And so, I made the painful decision to cut back on my coffee. It’s for the best, I know and I don’t think nearly as much about my turkey blood cells as I once did. Granted I still suffer the caffeine headache still, but not often and really I feel better in general.

It’s for best I suppose and thinking that I’m not nearly as high strung, perhaps I can move on and admit — coffee is the road to getting hit with pica poles.