Glen Bell Jr., founder of Taco Bell, died yesterday. I thought it appropriate to re-run this post from 2005.
When I first left home for college, I ended up living in student housing directly next to a Taco Bell. My residence was on the third floor, and early every morning when they started cooking for the day, the smell of simmering beef and refried beans would waft through my open window. More often than not, I would wake up with a craving for burritos.
Keep in mind that Taco Bell wasn’t the same in those days as it is today. There were no dining rooms, but rather an open brick arched area to cover you while you ordered, an outdoor fire pit complete with gas flames and a bit of outdoor seating. You stood under the arches and made your order from a small selection of mostly 29 cent items. Tacos were bent and deep-fried on-premises. The “savory beef” mixture was cooked fresh each day and was actually pretty good. When you looked in the back, you could see the beans being made every morning in big troughs. As I recall, employees used primitive hand blenders that looked like commercial drills to mash the beans.
Lying in bed on a Sunday morning, the thoughts of most young men were far away from food, but not mine. For a college student on a very limited budget, Taco Bell was a savior. I remember they used to run specials with five-for-a-dollar burritos, tacos or tostadas. None of the fancy “wild chalupa chicken chipotle Doritos” whatever that they push today. Those were simpler times, and to survive my very limited budget, I frequently ate there twice a day. My car always smelled like taco sauce from all the little packets that would fall under the seat and explode on a warm day, shooting hot sauce onto my bare legs.
It’s not the same now of course. At that age, love is fickle, and I eventually moved on. An authentic taqueria opened a block away, and I immediately fell in love with their taquitos smothered in good guacamole. These days, I don’t think anything at Taco Bell is made on premises; I’ve heard the meat is delivered in pre-cooked bricks. That doesn’t matter though. I will always have a soft spot in my heart when I think back to the smell of those simmering beans whispering through my window on a warm morning. My weakness for their plain bean burritos will continue, and on warm days I will pause and remember the leftover smell of hot sauce lingering in my car.
Thank you, Mr. Bell,