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My New Quick Fix: Soda and Coffee Are the Drugs of Choice at MIT

Stacey E. Blau

I drink Coca-Cola, perhaps too much at this point, but it's probably too early in the term to really tell. I stopped drinking Coke when I was 13 and stayed clean for a full seven years, but I started again at the beginning of this summer. I wasn't caving into a need or even going through post-term withdrawal. It was, after all, late May, and the stress of the last weeks of school was well behind me.

The reason I decided to start again, at least the reason in my mind at the time, was that it seemed like it would be fun. Yes, drinking Coke is a fairly pathetic notion of fun and particularly comic compared to the idea of snorting the lower-case variety of the same name. But in the context of a very dull and strained night, fun it most certainly was.

When I made the decision I was with two friends, working to finish the layout and paste-up of one of the several booklets that freshmen received this summer. The work was pretty dull, and at 2 a.m. when I lifted my heavy head up off a table, the glowing red Coke machine five feet in front of me was quite a sight to behold. I wasn't especially thirsty, but it would cost me only 40 cents to pick up a nifty little aluminum can full of sweet, caffeinated carmel stuff. The appeal became pretty clear pretty fast.

The drink has proved more than a novelty. Since that night, I've been drinking a can or two a day, and it's been powerful stuff for a person like me. The reason I had stopped in the first place was I thought it hurt my stomach. It didn't strike me how strong the canned stuff was until I had some diluted Coke with ice in a cup from a Store 24. I like the taste of the diluted stuff better, but I must say that with the strafing carbonation and extra caffeine, the condensed contents of the neat little Coke can wins hands down.

I'm not sure I'm quite addicted to Coke yet, but I'd say my level of consumption is approaching an unhealthy level. I certainly wouldn't be the first person to reach that stage at MIT. But as the term begins, I'm growing quite wary in getting to the point a lot of students are at come the middle of the term, when caffeine is a necessity to get through a night of work.

It isn't just Coke that's the drug of choice around here. Most people I know with an out-of-control caffeine habit like Mountain Dew for soda. When they don't want soda, they go for a straight cup of Joe or sometimes more exotic options like the caffeine-heavy Vietnamese varieties of coffee and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Coke, especially diet Coke (sans sugar), is pretty much the mainstream poor man's caffeine beverage for 4 a.m. problem sets and the like.

Caffeine drinks serve other purposes beyond the mundane role of fuel for late-night work. I don't usually use Coke to keep myself awake. Pathetic though it may seem, it's just kind of fun to drink. More than one person, however, has suggested to me that there may be other reasons I began drinking Coke this summer.

My seemingly separate aim beginning at the end of last term to completely stop cursing coincided perhaps none too coincidentally with the start of my Coke consumption. The start and stop, some people said to me, amounted to a zero-sum game for my addictions: an exchange of one bad habit for another. I'm not sure that that's quite true, but even if it is, the exchange seems worth it.

Professor of Mathematics Gian-Carlo Rota uses cans of Coke in his Differential Equations (18.03) class for the theatrics and attention. "I need some caffeine to keep myself going," Rota says. In addition to the Hershey bars he gives out as rewards during lecture, the Coke "is kind of an act. It's been going on for heaven knows how long now."

But the caffeine use is not much of a habit for Rota. "I don't take any caffeine except in the form of Coke. I don't drink coffee," he says. "I don't think that caffeine is a good stimulant in general."

When it comes down to it, the yummy factor is the thing, I think. I drink Coke because I like it. There are lots of different types of soda and coffee with lots of levels of caffeine, but a whole lot of them seem nothing more than a way to prove how much awful or strange-tasting caffeinated junk your mouth and stomach can take. Particularly the way some people consume caffeine around here come midterm time, you wouldn't know whether they ever respect the limits of their tongue and stomach. But midterm or no, as far as I'm concerned, a can of Coke is it.