Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Taco Bell: A Love Song!

I've gone so long without posting over the course of the year that I've clearly forgotten how to write a post. Doing these things are like making a visit to the dentist. No, that's not it, maybe it's like going to the gym. You know, you do it every month or so and it's hard, your sore, and typically don't enjoy it. But you do it all the time and before you know it, it's easy as pie.

Although, as I've learned, pie is only easy to eat, not as easy to make. And when I think of something being easy, I tend to think of them as being easy to make. I'm not entirely sure I understand the phrase 'easy as pie.' I've tried to make some pies before, I'll buy the frozen pumpkin pies sometimes and will manage to burn them just heating them up. Actually making them from, you know, ingredients, that's basically done with witchcraft.

Well, whatever.

So, my kid got a job working at Taco Bell a few weeks ago. He has managed to make some money and seems like he enjoys the work. It's his first job. What's so weird about this is that MY first job was a Taco Bell. Working there taught me many lessons in life. Like:

1) The ground beef at Taco Bell isn't, technically speaking, food.*

I'm not one to be too finicky about what I eat. I like fast food, fine dining, gourmet, or homemade. Seriously, it's all great. I managed to gain about 50 pounds over five years because I just started eating things that tasted good.

But when I started working at Taco Bell, I was pretty proud of my work. I was a junior in high school and excited about having cash. I bought my first electric guitar, a pink Washburn with the floyd rose tremelo. It was, in a word, awesome.

I had several duties there, I ran the register, I washed pots, I cooked the food, pretty much did it all.** Cooking the food meant cooking things in masse. Ground beef came in these 10 pound bags and looked a lot like potted meat, except with more red. So, think of red colored silly putty. That's what the uncooked ground beef looked like.

During rush times, when we were going through the beef really fast I'd have to go pull out the bags of beef, usually 40 or 50 pounds worth, and dump them in a large metal tube, which, if memory serves, wasn't meant for more than 30 pounds or so of beef.

In it would go, and a cooking I would go. The red mush would slowly become grey mush. Then it was dumped into the metal things that hold the foodstuff and served to the people. I can't express this enough: It wasn't meat in any sense that I could understand. Nothing ever happened that I can look back at and think, oh, this is what happened and that's why I don't like it. No, nothing like that. I was just cooking it one day, I had my three foot long potato masher looking thing and I would move the meat like product around until it was a consistent color of grey, and I was staring into the see of reddish grey stuff in front of me and it clicked... that's disgusting.

That's it, I didn't find a rat's head, or a human thumb, or anything like that. I just looked at it, and decided I would never eat it again. To my knowledge, 25 years or so later, I still haven't.

I'm not sure if that's still how they prepare the ground beef there, but I do know Taco Bell was a defendant in a lawsuit about a year ago that claimed that their ground beef didn't meet the USDA minimum requirements to be labeled as beef.

That lawsuit was later withdrawn, I just find it funny. Taco Bell says 88% of their ground beef is ground beef, and so they can call it ground beef. Me, I just think it's gross, so I don't care what they call it.

My son, for what it's worth, loves the stuff and thinks it's amazingly tasty.

2) People are Jerks.

Despite the icky meat there. I never witnessed, or heard of, anyone dropping things on the floor, spitting in someone's food, or doing any otherwise nasty thing. In all, I thought the place was clean and much care was placed on keeping things that way.

Now, this was my first corporate job, and my first customer service/retail job. I did have a lot of those types of jobs later, as 1) I'm good at them and 2) would-be rock stars don't have lots of professional options.

But I quickly found myself in front of customers. Now, this was a time would you could but a taco (with grey goo as taco meat) or a bean burrito, or pintos and cheese... for $.49. I could get a tostada for something like $.69, which was something like an expensive item, I thought, at the time.

And of course, the mexican pizza was brand new, and was, I was sure, the greatest single food created in american since the hamburger. I did, of course, insist on eating it without meat because, well, I'd seen the meat, and cooked the meat, and would never consider actually eating the stuff.
But, that was a premium item, can't remember the cost, but I believe it was the most expensive item on the menu at the time. And this was a menu full of really cheap things. Again, I know because I lived for a whole semester on three bean burritos per day. Period. That was way after I no longer worked there, but was attempting to get through college while living as a hobo. So I went to class all day, then walked to taco bell which was about a mile or so from campus (sometimes I got a ride, but whatever) and I plopped down my $1.57 that I'd scrounged from my roomies, which covered the sales tax, and enjoyed my only meal of the day. Three packs of hot sauce per item.***

The point, Taco Bell was, at that time, a very cheap place to eat. So I had to deal with abuse that really only belonged in a movie about, well, social injustice.  Not from the gruesome overlords of management, but from customers who thought that they were being punished if I asked them to clarify whether or not they ordered a 'beef' burrito or a 'bean' burrito. Because the 18-wheeler that was honking its foghorn and the 6 screaming children in the dining area made it really hard to make out the difference in the crappy wall mounted speaker I had to use when I worked the drive through, because we didn't have those fancy headsets back then.

Somehow, me not being able to hear that one syllable correctly and knew I hadn't, and wanted to be sure I had the order right, meant that I was good for nothing, or that they'd already told me once, and they didn't spend their hard earned money (again, for $.49 tacos) in order to train me on how to do a job.

Yes, that's when I learned, really learned, that people are jerks. Not all of them, but enough that just about every day would see at least one person walk in that had no interest whatsoever in doing anything aside from taking out all their frustrations in life out on me.

Why, I was excited when I found out I was going to make more than $3 per hour at the time. I was well above minimum wage. But it was there, that I realized sometimes, it just isn't worth it.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to the life lessons my kid will take away from working there.

* "Technically," yes, it is.

** I did not, ever, clean the grease trap. It was a bucket that sat recessed in the floor that kept our used grease. It was the grossest thing I ever saw. I would get nauseas when I was within 6 feet of the area. It was the first time in my life that I realized I would say no to something because it was too awful for me to contemplate doing. I would have quit if they insisted I do it. Thankfully, it never came to that. 

*** Which I have to say, I was once in the drive-through at Taco Bell when I was in my mid-twenties and my son was a wee newborn at the time. It was a driving rainstorm and even to crack the window open was as brutal as opening a window in a submarine. Water gushed in as I squealed out my order (which would have included at the time, one mexican pizza - no meat - and a bean burrito - no onions) and when I pulled to the window I requested my normal 6 packs of hot sauce. 

I was told no. They only can give out 1 pack for every 2 items of food ordered. Which, I don't know if you've ever tried to argue with a person at the drive through window in the middle of a rainstorm, in the winter, btw, or at least late fall, but it's not a great thing to do. My driver's side was drenched, my kid was in the back, sleepy like a... well... baby, and I was telling the person that I have to have 6 packs of hot sauce because that's what I need to enjoy the food. If I don't have the hot sauce, I don't want the food. 

In the end, I had to park the car, get my son out of his car seat (remember, he's like, 1 month old or something) and walk into the dining area, water dripping from my pants, coat, my baby's clothes, and my hair (which was still rock star long at the time) and go to the SELF SERVE counter, and grab as much hot sauce as I could fit into a single hand. I waved it at the lady that worked the drive through, and left. 

I did, that next day, call the 800 number they used to have posted outside the drive-thru window, and report the incident. I asked them why they would have such small little packets of hot sauce, and such a stupid rule regarding how many a person can get at the window, but have no rules about how many a person can get for themselves in the dining area. It's not like I was vague about things, or am planning on storing extra packs for the apocalypse, I actually put 3 packs on each item I consume, hence, the need for 6. 

They person on the other end of the line had no answer, I gave ever bit of info I had, including the store number. I got a whole bunch of free food out of it, but honestly, I never got resolution that satisfied me.  


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry, the floyd rose tremelo distracted me. My Les Paul has one and they are very rare on a Gibson.
So even after staring at the red to grey goo, you still went back while you were in college to eat the burritos there?
Cheap places attract the bottom feeders. And I don't mean poor people - ones with broke mentality.
Good luck to your son.
And thanks for the reminder as to why I never eat fast food anymore. Or ground beef.

M.J. Fifield said...

My first job was at a Dairy Queen. I lasted two weeks. I salute your son's perseverance.

At McDonald's in Moscow, you had to pay for each little ketchup packet you wanted. It wasn't a huge amount of money per packet, but it was a bit of a culture shock experience for my sister and me.

Rusty Carl said...

Only *bean* burritos. Never eat the ground beef.

Pat Dilloway said...

I worked at Burger King in the late 90s and quickly learned that customers are annoying. But still I get annoyed having to repeat an order. Especially when they ask you for the order and you go through the whole thing and they don't get ANY of it right at all. If I'm ordering 3-4 things the odds would say you might get at least one right.


Luckily I never worked at a fast food establishment. I have worked at 2 different bookstores, and learned the valuable lesson that people are jerks, even in more educated settings.

Andrew Leon said...

It's amazing, actually, how much of meat is allowed to not be meat and still be called meat. For awhile, Taco Bell was one of the big users of that non-meat, pink goo filler stuff, but I'm pretty sure they quit using it.

Taco Bell isn't what I'd call cheap anymore, but, then, I don't think any fast food is probably cheap anymore. Except, maybe, Little Caesar's. $5 for a pizza is not a bad way to feed a couple of kids.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

A job is still a job, no matter how gross.

Jo said...

That "beef" is known as pink slime. I have blogged about it before now. Jamie Oliver exposed pink slime to the world on his TV programmes, it is disgusting stuff.


Maurice Mitchell said...

Great stories that bring back memories. My first job was at Taco Bell too and it was a disturbing experience. I'm sure things have changed, but people regularly picked food they dropped and served it. I stopped eating there and didn't for ten years. I try not to think about it now.

Cindy said...

My first job was at Hardees and after being around the food so much..the only thing I liked with the big cookie.

I like Taco Bell, but I always get chicken..which I'm sure isn't much better than beef. But oh well...

Jay Noel said...

That is awesome! Congrats to your son for getting his first job.

My first job was at a marketing research firm. I got to call strangers and ask them to complete a survey. It was cush. I also worked at a country club giving tennis lessons. Again...cush.

But in college, I worked at Chuck E. Cheese and I learned eerily similar life lessons. It's also good to get knocked down a few k-notches.

It's probably why I go out of my way to be nice to all of those working in the service industry.

Briane P said...

I hadn't eaten at a Taco Bell in years, but when my team met their goals one month this summer I treated them to lunch, and they chose Taco Bell, so I went and got the food and brought it back, and it was actually pretty good.

I do not care whether the meat in my food was once a paste or not. I am beyond caring about that and honestly, if you showed me a cow that you could shoot and butcher for me or a tube of pink paste that you could cook up, I'm going tubemeat 100% of the time. I have often made clear that the further away from actual nature my food gets, the happier I am. I want food that has had the bejeezus processed out of it. This does not make any of my doctors very happy, but they are not the ones who have to eat things using my mouth and my stomach. I am.

Congrats to your son, and Merry Xmas!

Lou M. Smith said...

Actually, I often stop for the bean burrito when I am in a hurry. Maybe that explains it. And since you have the title, my friend Edwin and I once wrote a song called HOT FOR SERGEI which takes place at a Taco Bell and is a love song...