A wise man once said that danger is like a fine wine but to Brad it was more like strong coffee: it was a good way to wake up in the morning.
He had recently given up coffee for the same reason an alcoholic gives up keg stands or a gambler gives up Las Vegas: a total lack of moderation. He would drink four cups before work, six cups during work and another four to six cups after work. After a while, he got the impression that this was probably not the healthiest habit—something about the way his doctor kept shouting it at him.
Quitting coffee cold turkey was like eating a grenade: painful and messy. Three days later, Brad’s head pounded like a pile driver, and he felt drugged on the way to work.
“How have you been doing these days, post coffee?” Brad’s co-worker Terrence asked. Brad looked up hopefully; he had only heard the word “coffee”.
“Urghh…” he said finally.
“If you want to really wake up, you should ride in my carpool,” Terrence said. “Sid the janitor insists on driving most of the time, and riding with him is like taking a rollercoaster with no seatbelts. It’s scary, is what I’m saying.”
“Do you think I could?” Brad asked. “Ride in your carpool, I mean?”
Terrence stared at him. “I was just kidding, but yeah, if you really want to. There’s always room in that carpool. I think I hold the record for the longest anyone’s ridden with Sid, and that’s only been about a month. The crazy thing is, he has never had an accident—not even a fender bender or scratched paint. No one can figure it out. Still, not many people can take the intensity for long.”
Brad nodded. “I think I need this. Sign me up.”
The next day, they met at the train station. As usual, Sid was driving. He said he felt uncomfortable being a passenger.
“If you want the maximum effect, sit up front,” Terrence whispered. He jumped in the back seat before Brad could say anything.
Sid had a passion for tropical fish, and rarely talked about anything else. “Do you know anything about tropical fish?” he asked Brad as he whipped left out of the parking lot without checking traffic. He was already eating a donut with one hand, and pulling at the wheel with the other, weaving in and out of morning rush hour traffic without slowing or signaling.
“I’m thinking of getting some Kaudern’s cardinal fish. They start at about 25 bucks, so I probably can’t get more than three. Hold on.” Sid pulled out his phone and glanced at the screen, steering with his knees.
Brad saw the brakes lights of the Chevy Tahoe ahead of them go on, but Sid was still accelerating towards it, frowning at the phone and muttering something about a dentist appointment. At the last minute, he glanced up, dropped the phone on the floor and jerked the car to the right, just missing the Tahoe and cutting off a dump truck in the next lane. He reached down and felt around on the floor for the phone while the car drifted towards the shoulder, still doing 70 miles an hour. They hit the rumble strip just as Sid got the phone and he pulled the car back the other way, overcompensating and almost slamming into the car in the left lane. Brad braced for the rending screech of metal but there was nothing and Sid brought the car into their lane.
“Anyway,” he said in the same tedious tone, “the tank I have is a 64-gallon frameless aquarium with a hyper flow water pump …”
Brad felt like he was truly alive. This was the most alert he had been since giving up coffee. Twenty more minutes of tropical fish lecture and near-death incidents, they arrived at work with Brad awake and ready for the day.
“That was amazing!” Brad said to Terrence later in their office. “It’s like he’s a perfect balance of incompetence and luck. How does he do it, living on that knife edge between safety and utter annihilation all the time?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think you’ll be able to stand it very long,” Terrence said. “I’ll give you two weeks before it all starts to get to you.”
But it didn’t get to Brad. He rode with Sid every day and arrived at work, awake and ready to work. If anything, the effect of Sid’s insane driving dulled over time. Two months after he had started riding with Sid, Brad confessed this to Terrence.
“I don’t know, but it’s not the same anymore,” he said. “Like yesterday, when Sid hit that patch of ice going 90 miles an hour, did a complete spin in front of the snowblower and just missed going over the embankment into the river. Honestly, it didn’t do that much for me. I mean, yeah, it was dangerous and all, but where’s the thrill?”
Terrence laughed, a little uneasily. “Well, I suppose it could always be more dangerous.”
“Do you mean like drugging Sid or loosening up the bolts on his wheels?” Brad asked. “I thought of that, but getting up early and going by Sid’s house every morning—it seems like so much work.” Terrence gave a little nervous laugh and bolted out of Brad’s office.
Two days later, Brad got an envelope from his doctor. Inside were two pieces of paper. The first was a note that said: Your co-worker told me about your situation. I hope this helps.
The second paper was a prescription for one cup of coffee, taken (orally) every morning.
Brad stopped riding with Sid every day. He found that one cup of coffee was enough to keep him functional and employed. Every so often, he would ride with Sid for the same reason other people go to an amusement park. Sid never got in an accident, and later changed careers to become a demolition derby driver. He attained legendary status as the only driver in the history of the sport to never lose a car.