Thinking Outside The Bun


Is it the way they end "why pay more!" with an exclamation point instead of a question mark? Is it the multiplicity of the Spork? I'm not sure. I'm not sure why I'm willing to drive for at least twenty minutes -- each direction -- past a dozen or so family owned Mexican restaurants, past the King, the Clown, and the Colonel, past my dignity and ethical concerns, past my viewing of Supersize Me, beyond my reading of Michael Pollan's seminal works and my ardent disdain for corporate greed, over good health, through a parking lot of a single strip mall containing the Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and a poverty enhancing furniture rental service, only to sit in my exhaust emitting machine, behind a bunch of other people in their exhaust emitting machines -- all who are craving that "fourth meal" -- just to wait another ten minutes for rehydrated beef-flavored soy droplets covered in sour cream squeezed from a tube, and decorated with tomatoes known to kill. Taco Bell, I don't always want to drive thru -- sometimes I need to drive thru.

Sometimes I dine in where I can smell the cashier's sport-scent aftershave mingling with the grease in a humid cacophony of defeat and rancor. Where I can gorge myself as I stare out across the strip mall at the families coming and going from the Dollar Tree. I look away, only occasionally, to admire the perfect mechanized cubing of the chicken in my Chalupa Supreme. Other times I pass on the dine in experience and "drive thru." In the drive thru, instead of being pelted by the fluorescent lighting and the grinding sense of my own failure, I gaze from the vantage point of my glutton-fulfilling vessel, deeply through fingerprinted windows often plastered with brightly colored semi-transparent wrap ads, into the abyss that is the Taco Bell dining room.  I more often do this in the dark of night. I do this as to say, "I'm not really a part of this village. No, I'm simply a tourist passing through."

Besides its degradation of the environment, there are two main disadvantages of using the drive thru. The first is that you pass up the soda refill. The second is a personal dilemma, one that haunts me, not like a dream or distant memory, but like a task I'll never complete.  Every time I pull out onto the street, loot in hand, I wonder: how can I get a grant to perform a study regarding what fast food chain causes the most auto accidents due to their product? My hypothesis, for many reasons, is that it's Taco Bell. I'm guessing it was triggered from the ad campaign, "Think Outside the Bun." They suggested it, and so I did.

A burger can easily be unwrapped and consumed while simultaneously merging into traffic. On the other hand, a taco is prone to spilling or cracking and can be a down right nuisance to any clean pair of pants. Truthfully, one can't help but think outside the bun. or outside the tortilla, because that's where a Taco Bell meal ends up. The mess created by Taco Bell fair is a danger to drivers, pedestrians, and really an object unable to get out of the Taco Bell consumers way. I know Taco Bell has items other than tacos, the burrito being hands down the safest to eat. But nachos, Mexican pizzas -- these items were designed without any consideration for the automobile driver. The only way to be sure Taco Bell isn't going to cause you to crash is to abstain from eating until you arrive safely to your destination. But really, how often does that happen? The abstinence movement didn't stop Americans teens from having sex, and that requires finding another person willing to join in the act.

I imagine that at one time Taco Bell put together a research team and tried to think outside the tortilla, but all they came up with was a racist chihuahua ad campaign and a few shapes that never really caught on. When the product shape is part of your namesake changing the product is nearly impossible. Perhaps that's one reason McDonald's has always been able to evolve.

Taco Bell could reduce the risk of automobile accidents with better preparation, but I don't see how they would provide the employee incentive necessary to guarantee each taco be made with care. And let's face it, many fast food workers are high.  The manager at the Burger King I worked at would often provide the weed. Being the boring kid I was, I was unwilling to participate in the "lets-get-stoned-and-see-how-far-we-can-slide across-the-floor-and-not-face-plant-in-the-deep-fryer game." Perhaps that was for the best. My lack of participation, paired with my coworker's increasing paranoia, led to my career in fast food ending abruptly before my 17th birthday. Now, although I have no conclusive evidence that the workers at my Taco Bell of choice are indeed blitzed on the kind stuff, nor do I know that they don't just happen to have more potent ganja than workers of other fast food joints, I can say that the Bell has always been consistently inconsistent.

Despite all I know about the gastronomic arts, and all the exquisite meals I've had prepared by Michelin star winning chefs, I still think Taco Bell tastes great. In fact, I love it. I crave it. I find the cheesy crunchy goodness irresistible. It goes against everything I believe is right, and yet, I still eat the shit. Taco Bell is to my liberal activist mind what an alter boy is to a priest. And as such, perhaps there is a smidgen of nostalgia that gets fulfilled each time I give in to my desire.

When I was a child Taco Bell became famous with the slogan, "make a run for the border!" Now, this could be taken many ways, especially considering which side of the border one is on. As an American youth I had no idea about the plight of Mexican immigrants or the monetary and even physical oppression dished out daily in the agricultural industry. I didn't know of the environmental and humanitarian destruction caused by capitalism and the American way of life. I also didn't really ponder the lack of authenticity at Taco Bell. I was a poor kid with no solidified cultural ties. At least as I reflect on my upbringing, that's what it seems. But as I fling my conglomerate of wrappers into the trash returning to a life seemingly removed from the evils of fast food, I realize that that is my culture resting under the sink for no one to see. My culture is one of imitation. Even when I try to deny it, when I fight against everything that our fast food nation stands for, when I try to hunt for a solid foundation to re-establish my identity, I have to face the truth and let my sense of nostalgia be fulfilled. That's the cost of being an American. So why not be honest, "Why Pay More!"