It sounds cliché, but my first Jolt Cola was consumed at a local comic book store. It was the kind of beverage that made mothers cringe, with the catch-phrase “All the sugar and twice the caffeine” proudly emblazoned on the can. Jolt wasn’t widely available in tradition outlets like supermarkets or convenience stores, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be in a vending machine. It was the kind of drink a kid growing up in the suburbs saved for special occasions, always consumed from a chilled can and not poured over ice, lest it be diluted. Jolt didn’t have the smooth taste of Coca-Cola, or the gentle sweetness of Pepsi. It tasted like a store-brand soda on steroids. Something tells me if you were making a drink with it, instead of Jack Daniels you’d throw some Evan Williams in there, just so that the whole thing was equally harsh.
Jolt was the stuff of legend growing up. If you had friends with nerdy older brothers in the late 1980’s, odds are you heard about it from them. I distinctly remember being lectured about it at great length while watching some tabletop gaming sessions or trying to read the dialog boxes on Crystalis (NES) from across the room. These were grand tales about unimaginable energy boosts, coupled with wild mood swings as the user came down. It was the closest thing a middle class suburban kid could get to cocaine. I distinctly recall one of these older brothers gleefully leaving the now-defunct Shinders with two Jolt Colas in one hand, and a copy of 2600 in the other, a scowl on his mother’s face. Those were the days.
By the time I got my driver’s license, I was pretty well integrated into the “geek” culture. My friends held LAN-parties, played Dungeons & Dragons and were early adopters to things like Magic: The Gathering. Although in all fairness, a lot of them played with Pogs in junior high. Mountain Dew was considered to be the standard-bearer of beverages, and along with Nacho Cheese Doritos, it was consumed at all gatherings. Jolt was too special for this kind of recreational use. Two or three of my friends could tear through a case of soda in a little over an hour. It didn’t even matter if it was cold. The market price of Jolt was far beyond our incomes to be consumed in the fashion, and it was unheard of to find anything larger than a six pack anyway. So there it remained, legendary in its own right, seldom consumed. Movies like Hackers and Jurassic Park added to its geek factor, helping cement its nerd-icon status.
When the summer of 1999 rolled around, I was single, had a big car, and a friend of mine had a job at Shinders. Being seventeen, not having gainful full-time employment, and having long afternoons to kill, obviously I’d go hang out at the comic store. It was the kind of place where loitering was encouraged, and I was able to earn some “cred” by buying books like “Rising Stars.” The Marvel and DC guys kept to themselves, the baseball card kids were busy trying to make a buck selling cards and the guys buying porno mags in the back avoided eye contact with the clerks and occasional parents in the store. That left the staff free to talk to people like me, the friend killing time. The store also had a soda cooler, stocked with twenty ounce bottles of Jolt, available in three flavors. One was obviously cola, and I want to say one was orange, and one was a Mountain Dew knock-off.
I’d buy a Jolt every time I went in, and before long they stopped bothering the charge me. Going into the fall, the Shinders trip became a Sunday afternoon ritual. I’d get off my shift at my job, then go hang out there for two hours until they closed. This continued right up until Halloween of 1999, when everything fell apart at the store. Apparently the own had gotten wise about some of the on-goings at this particular branch of his newsstand empire, and began checking inventory. I felt pretty terrible for taking advantage of his lazy employees, but it turns out the free-Jolt issue was moot. The internal thefts had piled up so that a few missing beverages went unnoticed. The staff had been running a Pokeman card fraud scheme that amounted to a few thousand dollars in thefts, and the bulk of the clerks were terminated during this time. Shortly after these events, I went on a Ruby Red Squirt kick, and Jolt quietly changed formats by the time I went looking for one.
Jolt has been a victim of the energy drink wars, now only served in a sixteen ounce format that resembles a large AA battery, hopped up with all the vitamins, supplements and additives one would expect to find in a NOS, Red Bull or Rockstar. Now that everything has twice the caffeine, twice the caffeine isn’t good enough.
In: Drinking, Guilty Pleasures · Tagged with: caffeine, cola, geek, Jolt