Mark Sherman: My drug of choice

Mark-Sherman SQUAREI don’t drug or drink, and thus, since I know I am always legal to drive, I do so whenever I get the chance, even if I have nowhere to go. I know this may not be good for the environment, but listen, when you don’t drug or drink, you have to do something! (A note to my environmentalist friends: I’m kidding.)

And on top of the driving, I must admit that I do have a drug of choice: coffee.

Well, there is also food, but coffee is so much healthier for you. Coffee has been around for thousands of years, and there is no evidence that I am aware of that says — as long as you are keeping your consumption under, say, four cups a day — there are any bad effects. On the other hand, research shows that food is bad for you. Not all foods, of course, just the ones you actually want to eat. Shredded wheat and lettuce are fine.


So, since I always feel guilty and worried when I eat anything I like because I know it’s not good for me, the only thing that gives me pleasure at this point in my life is coffee. Okay, there are my grandchildren, too, but the closest of these is three hours away by car, and his three cousins are on the other side of the country. Coffee is as close as my Keurig coffeemaker.

True, caffeine does not get rid of your inhibitions the way alcohol does, nor does it allow you to see the world in altogether new ways as psychedelics do (or so I’ve heard; I never took a psychedelic, mainly because my own mind was scary enough). But the Buddhists say that the key to the good life is to “wake up,” and coffee does wake me up.

One of the things I have learned in my more than threescore years and ten on the planet is that if you like something, there is always the possibility that government will do what it can to prohibit or limit your use of it (the recent legalization of pot in a couple of states a notable exception). So I worry that perhaps someday there will be restrictions on coffee — in particular, on ingesting caffeine before or while you drive. Yes, someday police officers could be issuing citations for “DWIC,” driving while under the influence of coffee.

I can see it now. I’ve just had a couple of cups of java, and I am going down the highway right at the speed limit with the radio turned up and a big smile on my face. And then I see the flashing lights behind me, and I suddenly realize I’m in big trouble.

I momentarily consider throwing my Starbucks cup out the window, but then I think about the shame of being caught littering, as expressed so beautifully in Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” So I simply try to get the cup, with coffee dripping out of it, under my seat.

But I know I’ve got a problem even if the cop doesn’t search the car. He’ll smell the coffee on my breath. And if I say anything, he’ll see how fast I’m talking (not realizing that I talk fast even when I talk in my sleep), and then he’ll do the usual “walk the straight line” test.

I pull over, and the officer comes over to my window. “License and registration,” he says, and I try to get them out as slowly as I can, so as to avoid suspicion. But, in spite of this, I have my documents in his hands in less than 10 seconds. And I’m already talking.

“What was I doing wrong, officer?” I ask. “I wasn’t speeding, was I? I was staying in my lane. I wasn’t texting. I barely ever text, even when I’m not driving. I think our society texts too much, and we don’t get enough sleep, and don’t get me started on Facebook…”

“Please get out of the car,” he says.

My mind is racing. I’m in trouble.

I step out of the car, and then he says, “Okay, Mr. Sherman, I want you to walk a straight line, turn around, and walk back. And you know, if you run the straight line, you’re in big trouble.”

But I can’t help myself. I practically sprint the 12 feet I’m allowed to go before he says, “Stop.”

“Mr. Sherman,” he says. “I’m pretty sure you’ve been drinking coffee.”

“Coffee?” I say. “Are you kidding? I never touch the stuff. It hypes you up. You can’t stop talking. And you talk so fast. You’re all over the place when you talk. And driving? If you’ve had coffee, there is no way you can drive anywhere near the speed limit. I wasn’t going too fast, was I? I know I’m talking too much now, and a little quick, but that’s how I am, officer. I’m just a big talker. For someone like me to drink coffee would be crazy. No way would I do that, especially when I’m driving. I know the laws. And they’re good laws. Great laws, in fact!”

“I’m going to let you go with a warning this time,” he says. “But I’d suggest you drink some herbal tea. Maybe Chamomile. That should help calm you down.”

“Tea?” I say. “Oh, please, not that. I mean that’s like white bread. Herbal tea? That’s what my mother always offered me when I seemed a little out of sorts. Puh-leeze…Oh…wait a minute. I didn’t mean that. I love herbal tea. It’s the best.”

And at that moment, I realize I’m done.

“I’m sorry,” the officer says. And then he cuffs me, and as he does so, he starts to read me my rights. He begins, “You have the right to remain silent. And in your case, I’d really appreciate that.”