Whenever friends ask me what I love about my hometown, Bayside, Queens, I launch into a monologue about its warm, friendly people, ethnic diversity, 24-hour stores, and convenience to Manhattan. From there I segue into restaurant reviews, extolling the virtues of Bayside's Bell Boulevard eateries. My enthusiasm is so contagious, I soon have my audience contemplating a move. Until I blow it by enthusing about the Starbucks on Northern Boulevard, two blocks from my house.
"That yuppie hangout is taking over the world," one friend mutters in disgust.
"I guess you'll have to move," says another.
"I like Starbucks," I protest. "Besides, having one practically next door makes me feel more secure."
I should probably fess up to being a cappuccino fiend. I'm so hooked on the stuff, that I own not one, but two pricey espresso/cappuccino makers. And I'm even thinking about buying a third ... just in case.
There's some irony in this -- I used to take pride in having a non-addictive personality. I even viewed people who just had to have their chocolate/cigarette/alcohol/cola fix as pathetically weak. But that was before I visited New Orleans.
My introduction to coffee enhanced by frothy, steamed milk took place many years ago -- before Starbucks was even a twinkle in its founder's eye. At the time, I drank coffee with a dash of cold milk ... and little enthusiasm. It never seemed zesty or flavorful. And it certainly was never hot enough -- not even at McDonald's -- although I would have willingly signed a waiver promising not to sue over spillage.
New Orleans changed everything. Sure, its jazz is just fine. But what I really enjoyed there was discovering Mardi Gras in a mug.
My first taste of the hot, frothy, confection of a beverage known as cafe au lait hooked me. And throughout the rest of our trip, while my husband was jazzed by jazz and begnes, I was romanced by cafe au lait.
My withdrawal symptoms hit early in our flight back home, and by the time we landed in La Guardia, I was desperate for a hit. Alas, back then my drug of choice was hard to find. Convenience stores and diners had yet to discover espresso machines, and Starbucks didn't exist. Those were innocent times.
So I was forced to buy my own machine. And speaking of innocent, I actually thought I could get by with a $50 model ... or a $150 contraption, when the first one failed to satisfy my needs.
$350 later I was equipped with a fine, Italian model (the machine kind, that is) and had switched to cappuccino -- cafe au lait's Italian cousin. That machine (it seems so cold to call it a machine) has served me well over the years. It's always there for me, just a brew and a couple of pumps away from a steamy caffeine fix whenever I need one.
But its very availability right here in my Queens kitchen was my downfall in the early days of my addiction. When my husband wanted to eat out, I demurred. "They don't serve cappuccino there," I'd protest.
As for hotels, their fluffy robes, cable access, and fancy soaps meant nothing to me. All I wanted was my cappuccino machine.
Then came Starbucks, spreading Seattle caffeine fever throughout the country, freeing me to dine out and travel, to leave my house confident that cappuccino would never be more than minutes away. Yes, Starbucks is everywhere, as are cappuccino addicts and latte fiends. Which means that no self-respecting restaurant or burger joint dares open its doors without boasting an espresso maker. It also means my husband no longer has to beg me to leave the house.
So thank you Starbucks for your caffeine invasion and for bringing your beans to Bayside. Just one request: How about offering 24-hour service? After all, our CVS is always open, and Staples too. If you do me that one little favor, I may even resist buying a third machine.