I thought we had something special.
Cheap tacos from an indy competitor were my gateway item. Sitting at my desk as a high school senior, I watched the clock tick towards dismissal. When the bell came, I skipped my locker and sprinted for my car. When you’re ordering 40 tacos for yourself and your friends, you have to be first in the drive-through.
Then, the unthinkable happened. The knock-off raised their prices. Once the prices were the same anyway, Taco Bell became our go-to. A whole new world had opened up. Something special blossomed and we started a decades-long journey together.
I’ve flirted with other taco-based restaurants over the years…Taco Johns, Taco Casa, Taco Cabana, Taco Bueno, Del-Taco, and more, but I never worried about our long-term relationship. Until now.
First signs of trouble.
In college, I discovered the Chillito. It was the most filling thing on the value menu, perfect for a broke and always hungry student. I vividly remember scoring a quickie with the Chillito after a long night at the bar and regretting it in the morning, but the next week I’d have a few beers and suddenly crave it’s company again.
I was young and naive. I thought relationships stayed the same forever. At first, they got rid of the Chillito name, but I could hang with the Chili-Cheese Burrito. Then that came off the menu, but you could still order one. Finally, it went away completely.
I struggled. Was it me? Was I not faithful enough? Should I have visited more often?
Eventually, I recovered and became numb to the vagaries of the special menu items. For a while I even saved the collector “¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!” cups with the cute little chihuahua on them; a dozen and a half haunted the back of my cupboard for years.
The billion different varieties of burritos that came and went. The Fresh menu. The Encharito. The Volcano menu. Three varieties of chalupa pared down to just one. The quick passing of street tacos.
I adored the Chipotle Chicken Loaded Griller, but it was stricken while the two lesser loaded grillers were kept. No matter, they too soon followed to oblivion.
The special menu giveth, the special menu taketh away.
Something else will fill the void, I always thought. Until now. Taco Bell has hurt me in a year when I needed it most and left me with nothing.
The end is nigh.
The beginning of the end dates to 2019. I always liked the Meximelt. I probably tried it when it was new, and kept going back. It didn’t become special to me until much later.
Until its demise, the Meximelt was my wife’s favorite. In high school, she would walk to the Taco Bell for lunch or after school, and it was the cheapest ‘something extra’ a high school kid could buy. Every time she ate a Meximelt, it took her back to a happy memory.
It became one of our private sacraments, one of the little rituals that husbands and wives build marriages on. Whenever we would drive through Taco Bell and get value packs of tacos for the family, we would get Meximelts for ourselves. Usually, we’d eat them in the car on the way home (Don’t tell the kids).
I worried about the Meximelt for years. Taco Bell kept jacking up the prices. It hadn’t been a good value in a long time, but we kept buying for equal parts taste and sentimentality. Then, on a late Tuesday night in 2019 in the drive-through, my wife and I got the news that the Meximelt had been taken from us.
In shock, we asked three times. We couldn’t believe it, but there was no mercy in the cruel teenage voice. Quickly, we stumbled through our order and returned home in shock.
Sure, you can order a Cheesy Roll-Up and add beef and pico, but it’s just not the same, though it is cheaper. I guess the idea of the Meximelt surviving in some form provides us a small measure of comfort.
Enter 2020. Forest fires. Pandemic. Murder hornets. Riots. Squirrels scraping holes in my house. Democrats. Hurricanes. Elections. More pandemic. We needed all of the love and comfort we could get.
On our first taco-Tuesday, around Spring Break when our last daughter at home found out she wasn’t going back to school, we put Taco Bell into the take-out rotation. On a lark, I added another staple from my youth, the Mexican Pizza.
Two crispy tortillas, beans and beef in the middle, sauce, cheese, and tomatoes on top. The standard ingredients with a crunchy texture. My wife hadn’t had Mexican Pizza in decades, and giving her a slice brought back more memories. Soon it was another little ritual, splitting a Mexican Pizza along with our tacos. We didn’t even have to hide from our remaining daughter; she only eats soft tacos.
This was comfort. This was hope. We could almost set aside our hurt and sadness from the Meximelt. We were moving on, tentatively re-establishing trust and letting Taco Bell back into our lives. It was tough, but we were committed to the process.
Then, almost inevitably, Taco Bell stabbed us in the heart. Our last remaining comfort item, our last taco-based connection with our youth, has been ripped away. The Mexican Pizza has been banished to the void.
I’ll still eat your tacos, Taco Bell. You’ll still stay in the Tuesday rotation, and corporate harlot that you are, I’m sure that is all you care about. But know this: you are no longer special to me.
There is no love without trust.
Brian E. Wish works as a quality engineer in the aerospace industry. He has spent 29 years active and reserve in the US Air Force, where he holds the rank of Colonel. He has a bachelor’s from the US Air Force Academy, a master’s from Bowie State, and a Ph.D. in Public and Urban Administration from UT Arlington. The opinions expressed here are his own. Learn more at brianewish.com.