Friday, February 5, 2010

Taco Bell Zen

There was a TDYer (a State Department employee from one post on temporary duty at another post) here in Santo Domingo the other day. She is currently posted in Buenos Aires. They have Starbucks there. She told us this because she heard we had Wendy's. We do this sometimes - this comparison of who gets what when you're not in your typical where.

A staple of our international life has always been the moment when, for the first time, we delight in having found the one fast food restaurant that will make our life a little easier. We have never been big fast food eaters. This is actually one of the greatest health-related pluses of being vegetarian - fast food is often completely off the table because even if what you're eating doesn't have meat in it, it was probably fried up with a big vat of things that came in contact with meat.

When Jeremy and I were first married - and eating meat - McDonald's often filled this role. If you have been on an all-night bus through Malaysia and you just saw a giant rat and you need to pee, you can stop into a McDonald's (where there is ALWAYS a bathroom) and then maybe you will just get a Coke and eat some fries while you're there. I was happy to find McDonald's being trumped by Starbucks when I was in Britain in 2004. There's great coffee almost anywhere, and there is nothing like trying a new place, but if you have to pee and you're starving (and, of course, it's raining) there is nothing like the familiarity of Starbucks - both in cost and quality.

One of my weekly delights here has become my once a week trip to Taco Bell with my children. They know Taco Bell - you can get vegetarian stuff there. My weeks here are filled with one unfamiliar challenge after another - do this, do that, bring passport, don't bring passport, pay more, pay less, etc, etc. But, on the day I pick the boys up from school and pull into Taco Bell I just feel this complete sense of calm. They are starting to know us there. The store is on a busy corner and always filled with workers from the local retail shops and banks. They always look at the boys and say, "Mira los rubios. Que lindos! Que Dios les bendiga." Fast food restaurant employees here - like in any country outside the US - take their jobs very seriously (I mean hey, there's air conditioning in there!). They help me carry the tray to the table. They ask if I need anything else. They smile at us. We enjoy our food - yes, that's right - we Enjoy our Taco Bell. And then, when we're done we go outside to the playscape. Where, under a 30 foot Ceiba tree, with a Caribbean breeze that has somehow found it's way two miles inland to a congested street corner, we find utter peace. It is, the most perfect fast food experience I have ever had. Indeed, despite my gourmet food hunting, it has so-far been one of my most satisfying dining traditions - here or anywhere.

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