I’m trying to be more proactive, to seek out new experiences rather than avoiding them just because they may be strange and different. A child cowers from his fears. An adult seeks them out and conquers them. That’s what I am striving for. I’m tired of missing out on experiences because of longstanding hang-ups or anxieties. So yesterday, at the age of twenty-seven, I ate at Taco Bell for the first time.
I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hungry and unable to check into my hotel for another half hour. In an effort to scare up some fun or culture, I asked the woman at the airport café whether there was anything fun to do around town. She cocked her head in thought before offering her reply.
I drove toward my hotel and resigned myself to a greasy, fast food lunch. I had pulled into the parking lot of a Wendy’s when I saw it in the distance. The pink and purple bell signifying the most American of Mexican foods. It called to me. Up to that point, I’d never eaten anything from a Taco Bell, mostly out of habit. I’d resisted friends’ invitations over the years because I just didn’t eat there. But it was time for all that to change. I was going to loosen my metaphorical tie and live a little. I pulled away from the Wendy’s and didn’t look back.
Inside the Taco Bell, I was overwhelmed by all the semi-Spanish offerings. The menu was replete with chalupas, gorditas, and other foods I’d never seen in an actual Mexican restaurant. I didn’t know where to begin. In a panic, I remembered a friend’s advice to steer of anything with meat, and I ordered a Seven Layer Burrito. The cashier asked, incredulously, whether I knew that it was a vegetarian burrito. I told her it was okay. She asked my name, and I actually considered giving her a pseudonym out of embarrassment. I sat down to wait, but within one minute, I heard my name called. My burrito was presented to me with a speed beyond all reason. It was too fast even to have been sitting under a heat lamp. That burrito, I surmised, was my destiny. I left the restaurant, lunch in hand.
Still, I felt a little twinge of regret. If I was going to do Taco Bell, I wanted to do it right. I pulled out my phone and tweeted that I was embarking on my maiden voyage to Taco Bell. I asked the simple question: “What should I get?” After a flurry of @ replies, I settled on a chalupa, the second most popular response. A majority of the answers were just the word “diarrhea.” That was probably my first sign that maybe this adventure was a fool’s errand. The second omen was when I reentered the building and a thick smoke hung in the air. Against my better judgment, I ordered anyway. Ignoring my no-meat directive, I asked for a beef chalupa.
I absconded to my hotel room and immediately drew the blinds. Partly because I was planning to take off my jeans, and partly because I didn’t want anyone to see me going to scarftown on two fistfuls of bean paste and Grade X ground meat. I took my first ever bite of Taco Bell food in my underwear, standing over a desk at a Quality Inn, just as God intended.
I noticed the consistency of the burrito before its flavor. It was a paste. That was the only word for it. It was smooth and unchallenging to bite through. Once I made peace with the burrito’s uniform texture, I could appreciate its taste. All the notes were there: beans, sour cream, guacamole. But it was impossible to tell where one taste ended and the next began. It was like what I’d imagine the Jetsons ate before food-pill technology had been perfected.
After a quick break, I set in on the chalupa, which was nothing special. Overall, my impression was that I was eating Latin McDonalds. The “dishes” were the size and shape of real foods, but without the right texture or flavor. Because I never had Taco Bell growing up, though, I never learned to crave it the way I sometimes want a McDouble late at night. I don’t think I’ll avoid Taco Bell in the future, but I can’t imagine myself returning to it as comfort food.
What I did gain from the experience is I broke myself out of a rut. Some may argue that this particular rut was a healthy one to be in. But the point is, I got out of it! Going forward, who knows what fears I’ll conquer next. I could go skydiving or take mushrooms or go back to Taco Bell and get that insane Dorito-wrapped taco. Now that I’m in the habit of getting away from my habits, I can do anything.
It’s all on the table. I know I have adventure in me, but which excursions will be worthwhile, and which will be duds? How often is the risk worth the reward?
For better and worse, the world is my chalupa.