By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The gum stuck to my hair. No matter. I pulled on the mass harder, harder, harder until I was holding what looked like an owl pellet of my own hair.
I tossed the furry nugget and staggered out of the club with a need to talk — to anyone, about anything — quickly, quickly. I rode my bike home, on the way calling every phone number I could think of and leaving frantic messages. But it was no use. Brain and body were hopelessly out of synch. I was a nuclear reactor trapped in Jell-O — a body held hostage by energy itself. I pulled over to throw up, but gagged instead; I continued gagging all the way home.
The calls came back from friends for two days. "What did you do to yourself?" they asked. "Is it over?"
The next morning, the flat, sweet taste of Mini Thin Rush still wafted through my throat and over my tongue like the last smoky remnants of a chemical fire. I wanted my coffee.
But I did not drink my coffee.
Instead I got in my car and headed for Miami Beach, to meet a rep for Springbac, a new locally based energy drink company sponsoring the Association of Volleyball Professions (AVP) tournament being held on South Beach.
Deprived of coffee, my heart was pounding. The first wave of a headache had arrived, and the tsunami wasn't far behind. In a throbbing haze, I popped another piece of Mini Thin Rush gum — the same kind I'd cheerfully ripped from my scalp the night before. It tasted worse than I remembered. My hands twitched slightly on the steering wheel.
The sun shone, blinding and merciless, over the tournament grounds, a chunk of beach consisting of a small encampment of half-deserted tents. Just about the only people around were the product sponsors. They circled the beach in tight, hungry packs — all predators and no prey.
Amy Deupi, head of public relations for Springbac, met me at the gate. A small, neat woman, Deupi had the bubbly, now-we're-friends personality you might find hawking any product du jour. But her eyes had a sharp, hawklike intensity.
"Let's get together for lunch this week," she said, grabbing my hand and turning those eyes on me like a pair of blowtorches. "We can talk about how we're going to do the story."
I explained she needn't worry about the story, because I'd be writing it.
The eyes shot down at my notepad.
"Oh, look," she said lightly. "You wrote down what I said about lunch."
I was saved by the Springbac Girls, who had corraled a tall, muscly, shirtless hunk wielding a volleyball. They got him to take a bottle, and watched in satisfaction as the liquid flowed down his gullet. Deupi swooped in.
"You're a player?" she asked. He nodded. Deupi, seizing the moment, aimed her camera and asked, "Can you hold up the drink?" Seeming a little bewildered, he complied.
"Look for the volleyball players," Deupi instructed after the guy moved down the beach. "They're tall."
Unlike many other energy drinks — which bill themselves as just like Red Bull, only stronger, tastier, energy-er — Springbac touts itself as a kind of anti-booze, an antidote to alcohol's toxic effects on the body. And — hence its name — a hangover-recovery drink. Packaged in calm, fruity colors, the drink contains no caffeine — and no taurine, guarana, or yerba maté. What separates it from, say, Sprite, is that its ingredients are supposed to naturally bestow the magical property of energy. Among them, as one of the Springbac girls affirmed to a man in swim trunks: "Artichoke extract. It cleanses your liver.
"I drink it before I go jogging, with my vodka, and when I'm hung-over in the morning," she added, thrusting a bottle (along with her bosom) toward him.
I took a sip. It tasted pretty good: a lot like Sprite.
But whatever wonders the drink was performing for my liver, it wasn't delivering the energy. It was midday by now, I still hadn't had my coffee, and I felt as if a giant hole were being bored into my head — a cavity that needed to be filled with caffeine. Artichoke extract was not going to do the trick. Another piece of energy gum was out of the question — I'd rather chew the caffeine back out of my liver than smack on another piece of that stuff. I fumbled through my bag, grabbed another bottle of Mini Thin Rush, and — ducking behind the canopy of the Springbac table — gulped it down. It took hold at once; within a minute, my upper lip was stuck to my teeth again.
Emerging from behind the table, I tried to talk to the Springbac team some more, but found myself inexplicably swearing uncontrollably. Suddenly I was all fucks and shits. The girls seemed horrified by the transformation. Trembling, I made my way out to Ocean Drive and sat slumped against a tree, heart pounding.
Deupi called a few days later. "We should talk about how we're going to pitch this story," she said.