Stupid Tuesday questions, Bell Grande edition

Taco Bell is the Las Vegas of American food.

Vegas knows why you’re there.  They make it clear they know why you’re there pretty much as soon as you step into the airport.  You’re there for gambling and booze and boobs.  Lots of gambling and booze and boobs.  You’re there for an excess of excess, for embellishments ladled on top of embellishments that you take in while strolling around with an open container of alcoholic Kool-Aid.  You’re not there for tasteful restraint or quiet contemplation, and heaven help you if you’d like some.  You’re there for bawdy and gaudy, served up with utter shamelessness.

Vegas knows why you’re there.

And so does Taco Bell.

All of this sprang to mind reading an article in Slate about the new “fresh” campaigns various fast food retailers have been trotting out, Taco Bell’s most of all.  I particularly enjoyed one paragraph:

I think what we’re seeing is that consumers in general are moving away from what we call ‘food as fuel,’ ” says Ellie Doty, a senior marketing manager with Taco Bell. Now, she says, “food is experience.”

Frankly, I’m surprised anyone at Taco Bell would go on the record as thinking their consumers were there for “food as fuel.”  I would have guessed the average Taco Bell consumer would have had a more “food has mass and takes up space” mentality.  “Fuel” implies a greater awareness of/interest in calories and the related implications of sucking down a Mexican Pizza than I would impute to the average Taco Bell patron.

And that was the glory of Taco Bell.  Rather than pretending it served anything other than a massive pile of highly processed chemicals and byproducts, it veritably gloried in it.  “Look,” it seemed to say, “you’re here to shovel awful, awful ‘food’ into your gullet and we’re here to serve it to you.  This ain’t Chez Panisse and you don’t want it to be.  You want fat and salt in alternating layers of crunchy, gooey and crumbly.  Come ‘n get it.”

How else to explain its jaw-droppingly brazen tribute to drunken, late-night gorging “Fourthmeal“?  It saw America’s desire to indulge in yet more gluttony and said “we’re here to help.”  How else to make sense of its Dorito-shelled hybrid “Loco” taco, which met the demands of people who wanted all their junk food in one bite, without the wear and tear on the joints that comes from putting one item down and picking up another?  (I love the article’s description of the tacos as “a $1.29 fistful of garbage dusted in neon-orange sodium that tasted vaguely like cheese and synergy.”)

This is a chain that banishes shame.  I think it’s only been outdone in mass-produced deadly sin by the KFC “Double-down” sandwich, a chicken sandwich in which the bun has been replaced by yet more chicken, and which St. John the Divine would surely have put into the book of Revelation as a sign of God’s imminent wrath if such an appalling notion could have occurred to him.

So it’s almost tragic to me to see them trotting out a celebrity chef to hawk their new supposedly-fresh menu of more thoughtful, tasteful meals.  I think this is a mistake.

First of all, it’s ludicrous.  If you go into a fast food joint and expect a flavor experience anywhere close to what a real chef would serve in a real restaurant, then your tray of disappointment is a just reward.  I don’t know who Lorena Garcia is, but I guarantee that if anyone confused what she serves in her actual establishment with what’s being marketed using her image at Taco Bell, she would weep bitter, cilantro-infused tears.  Let’s not kid ourselves.

But come on!  Just like I wouldn’t book a trip to Vegas for a week of fasting and prayer, I wouldn’t want to go to Taco Bell for a gourmet dining experience.  That’s not what it’s there for.  It’s there to peddle coronaries on the installment plan with nary a judgment or apology.  You want fresh ingredients and a subtle interplay of flavors and textures?  Hit the road, pal.  This is Taco Bell.

So that’s this week’s Question, layered like a 7-layer Burrito — what almost (almost) achieves a kind of greatness in its unflinching acceptance of its own crappiness?  What other monuments to vice and over-indulgence can you think of, so overt and flagrant that they’re nearly wonderful, if not quite?  What would paradoxically be made worse by trying to make it better?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


    • Bzzzt. Methinks you are confusing “beautiful simplicity” with “crappy”. The Ramones ARE wonderful and great, no qualifiers needed. (I view dhex’s woefully misguided opinion on the subject as the sort of minor intellectual blemish otherwise intelligent people often exhibit, presumably being sort of a mental equivalent to a “beauty mark” aka “mole” on a supermodel’s cheek. 😉

      I have linked this before, but this makes the case (as if one were needed) of rock’s true Vegas equivalent:,90900/

      • No, I like the Ramones, but there’s a real level of crappiness there. It’s a band that didn’t really grow musically, that never really experimented. They found a formula and stuck with it.

        But if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have the Ramones as we know them, and I think that would be worse.

        I might add as an addendum, all real punk music would be worse if it was better.

        • It’s a band that didn’t really grow musically, that never really experimented. They found a formula and stuck with it.

          You don’t mess with perfection. Minimalism, functionality and repetition are their own rewards when done properly. Johnny Ramone shows up frequently, and places highly, on “Best Guitarist” lists. And the band was tight, tight, tight, almost airlessly so. (The Pistols, not so much, but they were great in a different way).

          There was an interview with Joe Strummer once where he was talking to Ramones about the Ramones’ latest new drummer, and they mentioned that they (Ramones) had shaved like 3-5 minutes off their set without dropping any songs; Strummer was just flabbergasted, because he didn’t think it was possible for the songs to be played any faster.

          In many ways, though their fans were generally of different camps, AC/DC are the Ramones’ Ozzie twins.

          I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.

          -Angus Young, AC/DC

          • I agree with everything you say, and yet I’m constitutionally opposed to perfection in that sense. I prefer branching out, stretching oneself, conquering new terrain, rather than just getting better and better at the same old.

            They were perfect, but in that perfection also lies their crappiness. But if they had tried to avoid that crappiness, had they branched out, they wouldn’t have achieved the perfection that they did.

          • I used to have an on-going argument with a friend about studio vs. live albums. He liked studio albums because they could be perfected–and used to rave about Pet Sounds as the best album ever produced. I like live albums because they can’t be perfected; you can hear any raw spots, and the audience response, and spur of the moment quips, and the different arrangements of songs that playing live forces, or that they have chosen just for variety. Moments such as this.

            But I admit my preferences are often idiosyncratic, and I have no qualms about others holding different preferences.

            And, yes, the Ramones were perfection incarnate.

          • I’m with you on live performances, I was big on getting bootlegs back when that was a thing (is it still?). For some bands/songs the live performance is the definitive one, because there’s a crackle of energy there that a studio just saps (Think Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me”, which just walks all over the original).

            YouTube has been a godsend in that respect – video, or audio documentation of live moments that would have been lost forever. Iggy and the Stooges just perplexing people at a state fair or something (the announcer is priceless):


            Or Ian Curtis, just looking like a well-dressed young man, not some mythical poet of pain.

            In general – godlike perfection is boring. Probably my biggest stumbling block with The Beatles.

            (Ducks before Schilling lobs something at my head).

          • I’m trying to reconcile “God-like perfection” with the Beatles. You have heard of Mozart?

          • Live or Studio? Depends on the band, I suppose. Bands like Umphrey’s make wonderful studio releases but the good stuff is all live because they improvise. Hell, they even set aside a part of the show just for tapers and everyone’s trading performances.

            But most bands sound awful live. There was once a band, long time ago, 801, Phil Manzanera and others, who recorded a live album straight from the mixing board. 801 Live changed everything.

          • I tend to disagree with much of what is said about the bands in question here.
            Ramones: The intro to “Highest Trails Above” is something that would have been very out of place on either of the first two albums. The fact is that the band did evolve, though they did so within their own framework.
            AC/DC: One of the things notable about the “Back in Black” album is that most of the songs include riffing in the higher register as part of the main theme. There’s been a tremendous amount of variation, although again, within their own framework.

            Live v. Studio: Both have their strong points, though any particular band is likely to sound better with one or the other. Grand Funk is one band that always sounded crappy in the studio (“Grand Funk Lives!” being the only exception, AFAIK), and Peter Frampton did as well. Still, there are a number of pieces by Frampton that I would prefer to listen to the studio version (“Penny for Your Thoughts” is one that immediately comes to mind).
            In many cases, the live work is an approximation of what was intended in the arrangement. Also, in many cases, there are things added in the studio version which aren’t integral to the arrangement, and many times there is outside pressure to one thing or another.
            It’s a tough call; but it’s really not an either/or type of thing.

          • Will H. – I don’t mean that I *always*prefer live, often as BP said it may sound terrible or inferior to studio recording; just that I see its advantages. I have a friend that really *dislikes* live records, no matter how good the recording or performance, and I just don’t get that mindset.

            re: Ramones, there’s also the album they did with Spector (End of the Century, which is also the name of a great doc on them); if not entirely successful (and, you know, kinda dangerous, what with Spector pulling a gun on them and all), it still stretched their sound a bit (while also making explicit exactly where they had been coming from all along, with their love of girl groups and bubblegum). They also did some stuff in the mid-80’s that sounded a bit like the metal and hardcore that they themselves had influenced.

            But those first four records (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, Road to Ruin) are as consistent a run as there is in rock – put ’em on shuffle and try to tell me which songs are which – and are just about perfect.

            And I didn’t mean to imply AC/DC constructs their songs like Ramones; just that like Ramones, they seem to value consistency, directness, power and sturdiness over reinvention or subtlety.

          • I didn’t take it like that.

            But I tend to fall into that camp of “hates live albums.”
            There are a few exceptions.
            Sometimes you hear a band do something that would never have made it to the studio cut.

            Ramones I always stands out to me because of the trash can crash cymbal sound.
            I like the songs better than Rocket to Russia, but that crash cymbal is a drag.

            With songwriting, it’s hard to say what was going on when from outside. Some of the best material I’ve written was written for a certain market at a certain time.
            What I was getting at is that the riffing in “Beating around the Bush” is all on the lower strings with open strings. It’s pretty low in pitch. “Have a Drink on Me” is much higher, and this seems consistent throughout “Back in Black.” I don’t remember where they did anything else like that.
            If you listen to “Let There Be Rock,” everything is about the same tempo. “Back in Black” is way down-tempo from that.
            There’s a lot that’s similar, but it certainly seems like they were developing within their own framework. Of course, any course of development like that comes with countervailing forces; it’s not a clear and sustained path, but more stop-and-go.

            One of the things I was thinking of with live albums is channel switching.
            In a piece with different guitar sounds, you need channel switching. With a strat, you can use the volume knob to much the same effect (which is one of the benefits of learning to play one; the single-coil pickups don’t hide the defects in playing that the humbuckers will, and it’s a much more expressive instrument).
            Consider 2112, the part that starts, “I know it’s most unusual . . .”
            He’s doing that with channel switching live. You know he has to because of the guitar he’s playing.
            But something to listen for in live albums. When the guy is playing a strat and goes to a clean tone, does it have a bit of overdrive in the hard strum? If so, that’s the volume knob on the guitar and not a footpedal.

          • Will H., disagrees with me.
            I am right and good.
            Therefore, Will H. is wrong and evil.

            The logic is indisputable.


          • Glyph,
            my friend who writes music (and gets paid for it) doesn’t like many live albums, because people invariably screw up notes. And he can hear it when they do.

          • But imperfection (or at least, the possibility of it) is a big part what makes music breathe. A bum or missed note. It can’t truly fly unless it can also fall apart at any moment. The flaws are part of what make it beautiful.

            It’s the difference between watching CGI, and watching a stuntman risking life and limb on a “real” stunt- sure, CGI can go bigger, and get it “perfect”, but it has a hard time putting your heart in your throat, because you always know it’s not really happening in the moment.

          • Nicely put, Glyph. Knowing that Jackie Chan actually has suffered serious injuries doing stunts makes each of his stunts that much more impressive and visually persuasive.

          • Ya know, anyone that doesn’t think that live albums have a place should listen to GFR’s Caught in the Act. That’s what made them as a band in the first place.
            I can show you (and I would right now if I had time) where Keith Emerson screws up a note playing live. It’s not about hitting a wrong note, but being able to recover from it.
            (Of course, with the guitar as my primary instrument, there are no wrong notes; just bend it until it sounds right . . . )

            @Hanley: Of course I’m wrong and evil. I thought you knew that by now.
            Good Lord, man! What’s it gonna take?
            Doesn’t change the facts though . . .

          • It’s not about hitting a wrong note, but being able to recover from it.

            Better yet, don’t just recover, treat it as an opportunity to change direction. Eno’s Oblique Strategies has a card that says something to the effect of “Honor Your Mistakes as Intention”. I forget who it was, but I saw an interview with some band where they said, if they screwed up a note, then they immediately repeated the screwup a second time, to see what if anything they could make out of it.

            IIRC that “engine starting” guitar sound before the chorus on Radiohead’s “Creep” was initially a mistake, the guitarist checking to make sure he was plugged in or the pedal was on or something; but they left it in and incorporated it as part of the song’s hook, and that was their first hit.

          • Glyph,
            yeah, if you’ve got enough talent to take your mistakes, and go flying off into a different riff entirely, rock on.
            Well, I’d like it at any rate.

            I dig what you’re saying about stuntmen.
            And then I listen to Love Solfege, and I’m not certain anymore.

            There is certainly something to be said for “I did that, For REAL”…
            And then there’s listening to complete manic perfection.

      • “(I view dhex’s woefully misguided opinion on the subject as the sort of minor intellectual blemish otherwise intelligent people often exhibit, presumably being sort of a mental equivalent to a “beauty mark” aka “mole” on a supermodel’s cheek. ;-)”

        i appreciate the allowances made for the vicissitudes of taste in this case. it is generous.

        speaking of live, i’ve always been fond of this version of transmission

        the deluxe version of “the seer” by swans has a live dvd that captures being pummeled by them these days very well.

  1. Bot the Monkees and the Bay City Rollers, I think. Ed Wood movies.

    And Bruce Campbell seems to have made a career out of being a crappy B-movie actor, but doing it with such cheeky self-awareness that it’s hard not to love him.

  2. Both Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Hershey, Pennsylvania comes close but the availability of interactions with actual Amish diminishes the purity of the tourist trap experience.

    • Oooooh, Pigeon Forge is a good one. I have a soft spot in my heart for gleefully tacky Americana.

      When I drive in to Boston to see patients in the hospital, I go through a stretch of Route 1 that fills my heart with un-ironic joy. I drive by several several gloriously cheesy restaurants, one shaped like a gigantic tiki hut and one with an enormous neon cactus. I adore them.

      • Yeah, maybe I did. Or maybe it was in Intercourse (obligatory point and laugh at the town name). One part of that portion of PA sort of blended in to another, and I was just there for a few hours. There were those buggies out on the road, though, not all that far from the amusement park. Certainly you don’t have to be Amish to do the horse-and-buggy thing.

  3. The Bond movies in their 60s-ness. I liked the recent Casino Royale a lot, but it’s a different animal. Bond movies in the 60s were ridiculous, knew it, had fun with it. That’s why the Austin Powers parodies made little sense.

    Bob Ross paintings.

    Philippa Gregory novels.

    • Yes indeed Bond movies are deeply silly! They never really stopped being silly until the Daniel Craig series: Moonraker almost immediately gave up even a pretense of verisimilitude when the villain’s aerospace assembly plant in Southern California is magically transformed into a French chateau; not even the villain in The Man With The Golden Gun understands the plot to destroy the world; no one even blinked at shooting a giant laser into the ground to trigger an earthquake to destroy San Jose in A View To A Kill. Die Another Day? Silly from start to finish. Oh, and they named another movie Octopussy and the MPAA let them get away with it. And all of it is big, big fun.

      • The height of the silliness is with the Roger Moore films. I’ve always liked the Pierce Brosnan ones.

        • There is no stupider plot point than the one (in which film I can’t recall just now… one of the Brosnan disasters) involving a supervillain with the technology to totally recreate his own face but apparently unable to tweeze out the diamonds embedded in his henchman’s.

    • Seconded on the Bond movies. We watched Quantum of Solace last week and it was a total mess. Just made no sense whatsoever. But there were explosions, and gadgets, and available women for the men to exchange as tokens of power.

      Ugh, in other words. The original Casino Royale is very weird, very fun in places, but probably a good hour or so too long.

  4. Chuck E Cheese?

    On another note, I bought a burrito at Taco Bell on the second day I was in Tucson. I was thinking “Hey, its mexican food. That means cheese, refried beans and chillis” Instead I bite into my burrito and…. “why the hell is there rice inside my burrito?” And also, there was hardly any cheese and no chillis at all. I felt extremely cheated. Do you know what will make Taco bell better, if they added a spicy option for each of their dishes.

    • Poor, poor Murali. Going into Taco Bell and expecting anything that does more than gesture vaguely in the direction of Mexico is like going to a Carly Rae Jepsen concert hoping for a sonata.

      • Yeah, but I sympathize on that rice business. A lot of burrito joints are doing that now (rice is cheap, presumably?) and overloading the burrito with it. I have started either having them hold it altogether or requesting ‘light on the rice’ (and watching like a hawk to make sure my instruction is followed).

        • Rice in a burrito is California burrito style. I can see why someone wouldn’t like it, but for me it’s my preferred style. Unfortunately Taco Bell doesn’t grasp how to make a real California burrito.

          Call out to Mike Schilling and New Dealer–is that hole in the wall burrito place on, iirc, Mason St., a couple of blocks from Market, still there? I’ve told my kids about it so many times they want me to take them there next summer.

          • I’m not against rice in theory, or as AN ingredient, but at least around here, they keep overdoing it.

          • I dunno about that one. There is a place on Kearny, a few blocks up from Market, that claims to have invented the burrito.

          • I like my rice on the side, to mop up whatever spills out of the burrito.

          • Hmm, I may have the street wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the one I’m thinking of. There is, or was, a place that was literally a hole in the side of the wall of an office building just about where downtown turns into the Tenderloin. There was no seating, you couldn’t even go inside because it was just an open window in the wall, behind which was a small kitchen. I’m not sure if they even made anything other than burritos–the kind that are as big as your head, enough for two meals (unless you’re a bike messenger or construction worker and it’s the end of the day). I remember that around 5:30 there’d be a line that stretched down the block, with people from all walks of life lined up–lawyers, stockbrokers, cops, storeclerks, bike messengers, cabbies, hookers, bums–a great slice of human diversity all patiently waiting in line together for $3.50 burritos as big as your head. And as I understood it, the place was run by a Cambodian family who came as refugees and had never heard of burritos before they came to the U.S., but bought the business from someone else and were smart enough to stick to a successful business model.

      • Taco Bell tried to open restaurants in Mexico, but the locals wouldn’t eat it, laughing at the complete bastardization* of their cuisine.

        They closed up shop and re-opened a little later, instead marketing themselves as American food. The Mexicans were not fooled.

        *The names of many Taco Bell dishes are completely made up. They are not real Spanish words.

        • Taco Bell tried to open restaurants in Mexico, but the locals wouldn’t eat it, laughing at the complete bastardization* of their cuisine.

          We’re lucky that’s all they did. They could have viewed it as an act of war, a gastrointestinal Hiroshima.

    • I will say that some forms of putatively authentic* Mexican food that I’ve encountered do have rice in them.

      *By which I mean, it has the reputation in Chicago as being “authentic.” It’s not Tex Mex like you find in Arizona or Colorado, and in my view it tastes really good, but I certainly can’t speak to what people actually eat in Mexico.

      • There are at least four different cuisines in Mexico and none of them look anything like Tex-Mex. You can sort them out by the tortillas and the beans. In the north, it’s a wheat tortilla and red beans, elsewhere it’s corn tortillas and black beans. In the north, it’s grilled meat and burritos. Oaxaca has smothered tamales, by far the best cuisine in Mexico, lots of fresh fish, caldos de mar, moles, also lots of chocolate going down the savoury route.

        But when you get into southern Mexico, everything changes. Lots of cooking in banana leaves. Corn is turned into gruel, very good stuff, too. The fruits are completely different and often appear in sauces.

        • My favorites are the Super Burritos 🙂

          But yeah, I suspect that if I actually had *real* Mexican food, I’d probably be surprised by the variety.

          • There was a joint west of Chicago called El Famous Burrito. They had something we used to call the Baby Pig, a gargantuan cylinder, capable of reducing anyone foolish enough to attempt to eat the whole thing to torpid food coma.

        • A lot of Mexican cuisine is seafood as well, which you don’t typically see in restaurants.

          I grew up in New Mexico, and what the rest of the nation refers to as “Santa Fe style,” I refer to as “Cooking.” (in Spanish, the term is “Jalisco”)
          It’s really crazy the types of things you see thrown together that don’t really go together and claim it to be “Santa Fe style.” It’s stupid.

          Spanish rice is one of the main dishes in that style. The school cafeteria would serve it 3 to 4 days a week (or more).
          A little chorizo for your seasonings and grease, brown the rice in a skillet, add your vegetables, then add water & boil. Good stuff.

          I tend to brown pasta in a skillet before boiling it as well.

      • Tangential, but I read that the free salsa and chips thing is purely American, but along thebborde . Mexican places had to start doing it because Americans would get upset if the didn’t.

  5. Lol. This was one of my favorite ones you’ve written. It’s so true!!! I really am stumped at the moment to top that but if I think of one I’ll repost. 🙂

  6. Texas.
    Keurag coffee.
    Land’s End clothing purchased as Sears.
    Guns and Roses.
    Kenny G

    • Counterpoint: It’s the best.

      No, not really.

      But I do like their breaded wings/sauce for some reason (no, not just the environs, I’d eat ’em even as takeout).

      • Everything on their menu is turrible, Glyph. It’s hard to screw up a chicken wing but Hooters has cleverly managed it.

      • I liked their wings growing up, but I recently went and they were far worse than I remember. I don’t know if they changed the recipe or my taste has changed, but it was a miserable experience.

  7. They make me insane but:

    The Real Housewife Series or most other Bravo shows.

    Most nightclubs




  8. Can we talk about Taco-Bell for a minute? Specifically, KFC/Taco-Bell hybrids? We can? Good.

    My first year out of college, a friend and I rented an apartment in Brighton. Since we no longer had access to the dining hall, we had to go food shopping. As two guys in our early 20’s with limited funds, this was not high on our priority list. Fortunately, there was a Star Market not far that had a KFC/TB right around the corner. I’d say that a good 1/3 of our food shopping trips were solely motivated by the fact that we would get to indulge what we dubbed “Fat Boy” time at the spot. We would load up on burritos, tacos, quesadillas, chicken, potatoes wedges… whatever… and race home with an unspoken rule that the first person passed out under the weight of his own gluttony was not responsible for putting away the slowly spoiling groceries.

    Fast forward to today, where Zazzy and I yet again live within close proximity of a KFC/TB. But 7 years has drastically impacted my ability to metabolize such junk. And I’m not even sure Zazzy ever even had such an ability. We hit up KFC/TB occasionally, but always with a sort of masochistic glee. We know it’s going to be miserable. We know we’re going to hate every minute of it. We know we should just forget any illusions of being productive the rest of that day. And, most importantly, we know to double-check the toilet paper roll before sitting down to do our business the following day. But we go. And we love it. The thing is, I’m not sure if it is because of or in spite of all the things I just said.

    My former roommate and I still reminisce about our Sunday ritual…

    • Not terribly long ago, I was seized with an incredible desire for Nachos Bell Grande. I knew quite well, of course, that the wonderful/horrible ratio would be worrisome at best, and likely to tip over into unmitigated horrible without notice at any time during my meal. And yet, crave them I did.

      So I sought some out the next time we were in a food court. And they were exactly as awful as I’d expected, in an almost wonderful way. The craving hasn’t really resurfaced since, though it came close when I wrote this post.

    • There don’t seem to be that many taco bells, or KFC’s, in Chicago, so when my fiancee and I go there, it’s a (rare) treat.

      Not that we don’t have our fast food vices. We (especially me….she is much better about eating healthy) just have different ones.

      • There’s no Taco Bell in this town, so when I go to The City it’s high on my list. We d have a Taco JJohn’s, which is better and more expensive, thoughnot aas fun.

          • We have a McDonald’s, DQ, Taco John’s, and Subway. KFC left last year. DQ is only open nine months of the year.

          • My new area is seriously lacking relative to the previous areas I lived in when it comes to fast food. This isn’t a horrible thing, but it lacks some of the better options, such as Five Guys, Chipotle, and Popeyes.

          • Kim- I know all about that prank. The town, Bethel, is a small Bush town. It is hundreds of miles off the road system and only accessible by small plane or boat. Its not a suburb of Anchorage. It’s a very different world there. There were largely gullible to believe they were getting a TB. People do bring back fast food to small towns like that when they visit Anchorage though.

          • Greg,

            Can you explain how these towns with no road access exist? I learned that Juneau, the damn capital of the state, is inaccessible via road. How does that work?!?!

          • Kazzy- Towns off the road system get everything shipped in by boat, barge or plane. There are hub towns like Bethel or Nome that have decent sized ports so they can get barges with gas, food, vehicles, etc. Most big or bulk stuff gets in that way. There have been times when due to weather a barge can’t get in for a while so there are shortages of food and gas. Not starvation or dangerous level of shortages, but where everybody is bit more careful to make everything last.

            It is fairly common even in the larger hub towns for restaurants to run out of some kinds of popular food since a boat hasn’t arrived. Last time i was in Nome, the nicest restaurant didn’t have many menu items like all the chicken dishes due to a run of terrible weather. Some things are shipped on large planes like 737’s but that is expensive and only go into towns with big airports.

            Smaller villages and those not on the coast get things shipped in primarily by small plane ( single or two engine prop planes). I visited a small village south of Nome for work a few years ago. It was an eight or ten seat plane. It had me, a family of three and about 20 cases of food like beans, fruit juice, cereal, bread, chips, etc. Things in Bush alaska, even the hub towns with good connections are very expensive. Often they are twice the price of Anchorage and our prices are often the level of SF or NY. I think i saw milk at 8 or 9 dollars a gallon last time i was in Nome.

            Most building materials have to be shipped in. I met one woman in a town of a couple hundred south of Nome who had to wait for the first barge of the summer just to get the material to build a house. If the barge was late due to weather, which can be very common, she would just wait.

            Life if very different in the Bush. You feel truly in the wilderness because you are. In every direction is hundreds of miles of nature. But its also possible to fly from Anchorage in to a hub town and then into a really tiny Bush town and be back in Anchorage at night. There are also people in small towns who rarely leave. Everybody owns guns due to real dangers from wildlife and for hunting. Most people in hub towns and smaller towns hunt and fish or trap for at least some food if not primarily.

          • Oh Juneau. Juneau has a big airport so they can land 737’s and other cargo jets and a big enough port to get big ships. I think they also have a rail link thr0ugh Canada. Basically there are lots of planes going through J. Many of the 737’s that fly to the bigger hub towns are half cargo and half passenger. So if your normal 737 has 25-30 rows, its common to only have 15 rows with the front half of the plane dedicated to cargo.

          • There might be good things to come from not having fast food.

            /City-boy foodie snobbery

    • My idiot uncle came back from something like 25 years in Africa (yeah, missionarying was a family business), endured a bitter divorce, moved into this little apartment in Georgia. He was living cheap: though he’d gone to Africa as an eye surgeon, all his certs had lapsed and he’d basically gone so long without being in a modern surgery environment it would take several years to get back to surgeon status. So he went into optometry, working for someone else…

      Living cheap. Alone and completely out of touch with American life. Bad situation.

      For months on end, maybe a year, all he ate was cheap fast food off the bargain menu, KFC mostly. Had a heart attack and damned near died. His cholesterol was off the charts.

  9. I think this is why Taco Bell is doing what it’s doing: so that couples and families with varying tastes can both go to Taco Bell. I probably wouldn’t eat from their gourmet menu, but if it’s good my wife might, and therefore we can go there. McDonald’s premium menu also serves this function and gives it a leg up over fast food competitors with us.

    • I’m pretty sure this is the actual, though considerably less fun, explanation.

  10. I’ve tried that “cantina” burrito. Not up there with Chipotle, & definitely not within miles of the locally owned and operated by actual Mexicans drunchies hangout up the street from Mizzou, but not a bad effort at an upgrade.

    For some stupid reason though taco bell stops selling it after like 1030 or 11. So for munchies it’s the regular stuff anyway. Oh well.

  11. I was going to say the KFC double down sammich but you already mentioned it. 🙂

  12. I don’t have any suggestions that haven’t already been made, but man I love Taco Bell. I’m a bit of a fast food aficionado in general, and I don’t think anyone is as close to the Platonic Ideal of “fast food-ness” as Taco Bell is. For me, eating there is just an unmitigated joy.

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