It’s New Year’s Day, and my family and I are across the country at my mother-in-law’s house. It’s cold! The snowflakes are big and so are the houses and lots. For a fleeting moment, we imagine moving here, paying cash for a bigger house, building snowmen all winter long and living a much slower-paced life.
That fleeting moment quickly evaporated when I took my first sip of tea from Starbucks. I had ordered a tall Awake Tea in a Grande cup – I like to have room for milk – just as I do when I am at home. Everything looked the same: the cups, the signs, the furniture, the Boulanger case of small bites. But something in the taste of my tea set off alarms in my taste buds that could not be ignored. It was a flavor that was nearly unrecognizable, but I knew I had tasted it just the day before. After a few seconds of searching through my memories of flavors I had consumed over the past 24 hours since landing here, I finally realized it was the water.
I will be the first to admit that my taste buds and olfactory nerves are a little too sensitive. Coupled with the fact that I am a vegetarian, you can imagine it’s a real treat to dine at restaurants with me. But while I can usually make do with limited vegetarian menu items, the one thing I must have is good-tasting water. Water to me is like wine is to others, and I rarely drink anything else. I don’t need expensive, imported, fancy water; I just need water that has no offending odor or flavor. It can be filtered or bottled. To be fair, I’m not a fan of our tap water at home either, and I can tell when our filters need to be replaced.
The taste of the water isn’t the only reminder that I’m not in the Bay Area. The beautiful and historical architecture in this part of the country is constructed mostly of brick and limestone because there is no concern for earthquakes. Grocery stores, Whole Foods included (ah, another comfort of home) expand along vast lots of land where traffic jams are nearly nonexistent. And while there are gently rolling hills, you can see for miles and miles across the open land without mountains to cradle small towns.
The newspaper articles tell stories of a different lifestyle that serves as a reminder that laws in one state can mean nothing in another state. If California law is meant to keep us safe, does that mean we are unsafe outside of California? In some situations, I would say yes, but then again, I am a native Bay Arean and I think like a Bay Arean.
We in the Bay Area may think a little differently from people in other parts of the country, but as I was soon reminded, there is something that ties us together that cannot be seen or tasted: hospitality and friendliness. The instinct to provide comfort resides within people, not places, and whether you agree with each other’s views or understand someone else’s lifestyle, the connection that levels any playing field can be a simple gesture to make someone happy.
After tasting my tea in Starbucks that morning, I considered my options and chose to make a bold request. I walked back to the counter and explained to the girl behind it that I could taste the flavor of the water and asked if I could get another tea made with bottled water. Expecting her to burst out laughing or worse, she smiled, grabbed a bottle of water and said, “Absolutely! No problem.”
As I sat with my husband enjoying my tea, I wondered if a snowflake from here would look different from a snowflake from Tahoe under the microscope. Of course it wouldn’t, unless it was made from the tap water.