I’ve been in Texas for eight months now, and I’ve learned quite a lot about the food culture here. If I want good barbecue, the best sour cream enchiladas in town, or an extra-large portion of anything, I know where to go. Every restaurant in town offers chicken-fried steak and tea so sweet that my mouth is puckering right now just thinking about it. Hot and spicy, fried and greasy, served with a smile and a slice of pecan pie. But finding a good cup of coffee? Good luck.
There are two Starbucks in my city. Now, some of you might think that’s a lot in such a wee-bitty town, but others will wonder how I can survive with such paucity—especially since I’m originally from the Seattle-Tacoma area where you can’t drive a half-mile without coming across some sort of espresso stand or café. When I’ve ordered lattes in one of the few non-chain places that offer something besides plain brewed coffee, I’ve had servers say Wow, that’s complicated! and Wait, let me write that down… Such comments don’t inspire much hope that I’ll end up with a great cup of coffee. So, more often than I care to admit, I load my two puppies in the car and we drive the half-hour round trip to the nearest Starbucks where I get my triple venti soy latte and the dogs get their puppuccinos.
You’re right…I could get a fancy espresso machine and brew my own coffee, but the three of us enjoy our regular outings. Dexter, our Brussels Griffon, will wake out of a sound sleep in his car seat and sit up when I’m about a block from the café (admittedly, he’s just as familiar with several other fast food restaurants in town). Brigh, our new terror-terrier mix, is quickly learning the joys of the drive-thru window.
After too many years without a dog of my own, I appreciate the companionship these puppies provide. Coffee, a scone, and two furry bodies waiting for their share. What a perfect way to start the day.
I’ve always been a dog lover, and writing Blindsided was fun because of the added canine connection. Both of my characters share their lives with dogs. Lenae McIntyre has her service animal, Baxter, and Cara Bradley is puppy walking (reluctantly at first) Pickwick. Lenae relies on Baxter for more than guidance—his genuine friendship is comforting after the betrayal of a less-than-honest girlfriend. Pickwick offers Cara the warmth and company she craves. The uncomplicated, dependable relationships with the animals help Lenae and Cara connect with each other. Slowly, they learn that a human relationship can offer trust as well—and so much more.
I had fun writing about Cara’s frustration as she worked with her energetic puppy, but she’s getting some payback. Now I’m dealing with the reality instead of the fiction of having a puppy in the house. And like Cara, I’m loving every chewed-sneaker, ignored-command-to-sit, trip-to-Starbucks minute of it. Yes, I could roast some beans and brew a gourmet cup at home, but it’s about more than coffee. It’s about a shared ritual, whether with humans or animals. And it’s worth the drive.
For a copy of my own fusion chicken-fried steak recipe, check out my story “East Meets West” in the upcoming anthology All You Can Eat from YLVA. For more about my experiences in Texas, visit my blog at http://kariswalsh.wordpress.com/.