January 21, 2008

Red Bull: A little extra kick

Adam sent me these emails during college finals week:

so I’ve been at the library for the last 7 and a half
hours and 6 hours yesterday and I’ll probably be here
until my test tomorrow and I need a break from
studying, so I’m sending you this email


hey, I’m a little hyper, I’ve had a coffee and a few
energy drinks, I’m still studying, going strong,
tomorrow will be a loooong day,
love adam

I opened these at nine in the morning and coughed up a heartbeat when I saw that Adam had sent the first message at 11:22 PM – and the second at 3:44 AM.

It was one of those watershed moments in the adventure we call parenting: My kid, who probably hadn’t eaten a real meal in days, was pulling an all-nighter in the campus library and would, one hour from the time I sat reading these “hey mom” emails, take a crucial macroeconomics final using a body and brain that had, assuming he'd gotten up yesterday at the not-unusual-for-college-students time of two in the afternoon, been up for some 20 straight hours.

And there was nothing I could do about it. This was his life, his deal, his way of making his way through his first tough semester, and all I could do was sit at the kitchen table, toss a “Please God” heavenward, shoot Adam a “Good luck!” email, and hope for the best.

I found myself putting some portion of my faith that this would all work out in those “few energy drinks” he’d been using to sustain himself. I guessed Red Bull, the jolt of choice among young people around here, indeed around the world.

The acid taurine is allegedly what gives the energy drink made by the Austrian company Red Bull GmbH its kick.

But not all the world’s Red Bull gets its kick from taurine. Beware the Bull that gets its kick from vodka.

A few summers ago we were in Zurich airport with two hours and a handful of Swiss francs to burn before our flight home. Adam wanted “some snacks” for the plane, so I gave him a pile of coins, and off he went to a nearby news and sundries shop.

He came back with a Toblerone bar the size of a baseball bat and a bag of vials filled with red liquid.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s Red Bull.”

“Oh. The containers are cute. They look like test tubes.”

Dana took one of the vials, looked at it, then turned to Adam and said, “How come you get to drink alcohol?”

The Red Bull Adam innocently bought in the airport newstand was not the Red Bull he knew and loved. This bull in the vials was made by Lateltin, a Swiss liquor company.

In most of Europe the drinking age is 16 for beer and wine and 18 for spirits. In Switzerland, the beer-wine drinking age is 14.

Adam, who was over 14 but definitely and unmistakably under 18, had walked out of that airport shop with a sackful of 20-milliliter tubes of Red Bull “Kick80 Vodka Aperitif.” Alcohol content? 80 per cent. I found a photo on the Lateltin website of a retail display box for Kick80, and it carries these words: “Don’t drink pure. For MixDrinks (sic) only!”

I get the willies when I think what might have happened had Dana not inspected her brother’s purchase.

Picture it: We’re barreling through inner space in a sealed aircraft cabin at 40,000 feet in close quarters with 300 strangers from assorted lands. The lights are low. People are sleeping, chilling with their music or watching a movie. And the teenager in 26B has just finished a snack of two pounds of Toblerone and a couple of Red Bulls...

Now, add turbulence...

(In case you're wondering: success on the macro final, dean's list for the semester. Must've been the Red Bull.)