Friday, July 24, 2009

Buttermilk Pie – at the Big Bend Motor Inn Café

In my search for a UPS pick-up spot to ship a birthday present with overnight delivery from Terlingua, Texas to a friend in Washington, D.C. I went from the Terlingua Trading Company to the Cottonwood Convenience Store to the Lajitas Horse Stables and finally to the Big Bend Motor Café. None of the people in any of these places had a clue as to how to ship my package, but during my otherwise fruitless search I did discover that Big Bend Motor Café has pie. Under “Dessert Special” on the chalkboard menu it read: “Homemade Pie $2.25.” Naturally, I inquired. “What kind of pie do you have?” I asked the cashier behind the counter.

“Today we just have Buttermilk,” she answered. “We usually have other kinds but we’re out.”

“What is Buttermilk Pie?” I asked. I may know pie but this one was unfamiliar to me.

“It’s like custard,” she replied. I glanced at her name badge and noted her name was Eva.

I couldn’t control my curiosity. “Who makes your pie?”

“I do,” Eva replied. “When I have time. It depends on how long I have to work out front and how much energy I have left at the end of the shift.” In the 104-degree days of summer my energy guess was “not much” and therefore not many pies were getting made.

Because I had also noted while poking around the Big Bend Motor Inn Café that they offered free wireless and a quiet, uncrowded, air conditioned room in which I would certainly be more comfortable working than in my 100-degree house, I returned the next day. I set up my laptop and I ordered a piece of the Buttermilk Pie. After all, a pie baker must always scope out the competition.

The custard was a combination of egg, vanilla and way too much sugar. The crust? Definitely store-bought. Blech! I left the fluted edge of it on my plate.

C.J., an artist who was working for Mimi when I arrived in May, stopped by my table to chat. “Are you going to eat that?” he asked, pointing to the abandoned crust. I don’t know if he smokes pot, but he sure looked stoned to me. One would have to have those kind of pot-induced munchies to want to eat this tasteless-cardboard excuse for pie dough. (I’m so sorry, Eva! I don’t mean to be such an ungrateful customer! Your service was excellent, your wireless signal strong, your drip coffee drinkable.)

“No, go ahead,” I told C.J. “You can have it.”

Satisfied that my pie sales at Mimi’s café were untouchable by the competition – and having caught up on my Internet surfing -- I paid my tab and left. When I reached the parking lot what did I see parked out front? Big and brown and hooked up to the gas tank hose, it was the UPS truck! I had just mailed my package via the Post Office’s Express Mail service that morning – paying the premium price for overnight service, which, by Terlingua standards translates to two days. (“Manage your expectations” is always a good rule to live by in these parts. I managed. I had already missed my friend’s birthday, what was one more day going to hurt.)

I knocked on the side of the UPS truck and a gray-haired man poked his head out. “Hi,” I said. “I was just wondering…in the future…I mean…how I can send a package by UPS from here?”

“You new around here? Where do you live?” he first wanted to know.

“Yes. I live in one of Betty Moore’s guest houses. I’m Beth.”

“Oh, sure. I know Betty. I’ve delivered to her house before. My name’s Jerry.” His smiled beamed and his eyes twinkled behind his wire-rimmed glasses and I suddenly had the feeling I was living out a scene from “The Andy Griffith Show.” “You just call 1-800-PICK-UPS,” he continued. “The company will let me know, and I’ll come get your package.”

And that’s just one more story (however loosely related to pie) about this funny, crazy, wonderful little life in Terlingua, Texas.