This morning was a cool, blue skied morning. It was that peaceful time of morning after the kids had gone to school and the rush of nine-to-five commuters had subsided, restoring quietness to the neighborhood air. It was the time of day I used to cherish as a child on the rare occasion when I was home. These days were different than holidays. On holidays, everyone was home, and the quietness was less quiet. But on school days, if I was home for some reason, I had an awareness of the neighborhood emptiness, of row after row of suburban houses, evacuated of other kids, and I felt like I was alone in the world like the sole survivor of a nuclear war or planet-wide alien abduction.
Today’s morning was like that. Teaching college affords me the luxury of flexible work hours and today I had a breakfast date with my wife. We drove a few blocks to a little Mexican restaurant behind the Midway Shamrock. Midway Shamrock still looks and sounds like a gas station, but you can’t buy gas there anymore. Now it’s just a mechanic’s shop owned by Jim and Carl. They stopped selling gas a few years ago as the price of oil got higher and more and more people started buying their gas at Wal-Mart or HEB.
Locating a restaurant behind a used-to-be gas station that’s now just a mechanic’s shop is not a good location. But Cesar Leal has cultivated customer loyalty by serving authentic mom and pop Mexican food to a Central Texas crowd of blue collar workers, suburban soccer moms, and newspaper reading senior citizens. Today I had a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, potatoes, refried beans, cheese, and pico de gallo. The onions and cilantro were strong in the pico de gallo. I could taste them in the air as I exhaled through my nose. This awareness of vegetables made me feel earthy somehow, like I was Juan Valdez growing coffee on the side of a mountain in Columbia. It was delightful.
Martha and I enjoyed an hour of uninterrupted conversation which was as rare as, well, something really rare. Not quite Christmas rare, but more than, say, full moon rare. Talking with her like that reminds me of when we fell in love. We used to sit in each other’s cars talking for hours, not wanting to stop until wee hours of the night. Today was like that. When we got away from the house, away from the kids and the phone and the internet, away from the dishes and laundry and piles of stuff on my desk, we quickly reconnected. Our hearts and souls reintertwined like a vine and trellis or like our bare legs under the covers on a sleepy Saturday morning. We are reminded why we love each other and that we are great friends. Our worlds become three dimensional again.
Customers have to get their own coffee refills at Leal’s, but I don’t mind. The simple, brown, ceramic mugs have an almost hand-made feel which contributes to the whole Leal’s experience. Getting out of my well worn booth to pour myself a refill can punctuate breaks in our conversation like double spacing between paragraphs.
Walk to coffee pot, pour coffee, add some half-and-half, enter enter,
aging parents, enter enter, funny thing the cats did, enter enter,
thoughts about God, enter enter,
our boys bring us joy.
After a while I can neither tolerate any more caffeine nor procrastinate going to work any longer. My time with Martha has been as nourishing to our relationship as Cesar’s burritos have been to my body. I can’t imagine a better way to start my day.