Wherever there’s a pile of sawdust-filled meat stuffed into a tortilla, or a bathroom toilet overflowing from a massive dump, you can be sure that not far away is a Taco Bell.
And you can be sure that inside that Taco Bell, America’s founding principles of capitalism and obesity are being practiced.
But in Downey, California, freedom has withered. The smell of spicy meat no longer emanates from loosely cleaned microwaves. Mountain Dew Baja Blast no longer flows from the taps. Cheese is no longer rolled up in a tortilla and sold as a menu item.
The world’s first Taco Bell–Taco Bell número uno–is closed.
It went out of business long ago. This 400 square-foot slice of paradise stopped selling delicious taco-like food products during the Reagan Administration, when business dwindled due to the rise of bigger, more popular restaurants with modern innovations like “indoor seating” and “drive throughs.” A new era was dawning, and Taco Bell Número Uno was left in the past.
During a decade when wolves roamed Wall Street and girls just wanted to have fun, this little slice of “clielo” (Spanish for “heaven”) couldn’t keep up with the rabid consumption economy of a country that just wanted more and more. America didn’t have time to wait 2 minutes for its tacos; it needed them in one. The joys of a simpler time were cast aside in order to embrace the coming fast-food revolution. Taco Bell Número Uno was forgotten, left to wither in the cold California sun, left to fade like the brightest stars of Tinseltown all inevitably did once their glory days passed. By the time George Herbert Walker Bush took office, not even the rats wanted its artificial cheesefood.
They say there’s no place lonlier than being alone. That was true of Taco Bell Número Uno.
There were the memories. So many great memories, spanning so many good years. There was opening day 1962, when Taco Bell’s founder, Glenn Bell, handed over the very first Taco Bell taco to an unsuspecting customer who had no idea what he was in for when he crunched into that 19-cent slice of faux-Mexican deliciousness. There was the first mariachi performance, which was held on the stage out back across from the fire pits, and all the white people pretending they liked it. And there was the time that guy fell in the fire pit and died, and they buried his body out in the desert without calling the cops. So many good memories.
If you lived in Downey, Californa between 1962 and 1986, Taco Bell was like your Times Square. It was the crossroads of the universe, where culture, art, and food intersected in a symphony of taste, sound, and light, very cheap lights from the Home Depot, to be exact.
This little taco stand, no bigger than a two-car garage, with its mission-style arches and its lack of indoor seating, changed the world. It took a fast food industry wedded to the idea of burgers and fries and turned it on its head by showing what happened if you just think outside the bun for once.
Now there are Taco Bells in every corner of the Earth. Sure they might not have mariachi bands and fire pits, but they have chairs, and they have the one thing that has never faded since Taco Bell Número Uno opened on that fateful day in 1962: people that like tacos.
It was safe in this knowledge that Taco Bell Número Uno could accept its ultimate fate. By December 2014, the Bell had tolled for Taco Bell Número Uno. The wheels of capitalism stop for no man, woman or restaurant. A vacant lot must be cleared and the seeds of new business must be planted, so profits can spring anew. Taco Bell número uno was set to be demolished this year.
Or so it thought.
You see, Taco Bell never forgot about Taco Bell.
And on November 19, Taco Bell cleared the lot upon which the world’s first Taco Bell sat, not by smashing Taco Bell Número Uno to bits with a crude wrecking ball but by giving it new life.
The restaurant was loaded onto the back of a flat-bed truck, mission-style arches and all, for a glorious 45-mile parade through scenic Downey, California to its temporary resting place at Taco Bell Headquarters on Glenn Bell way in Irvine.
The entire event was livestreamed online to potentially dozens.
A Taco Bell being driven around on the back of a flat bed truck was livestreamed.
Perhaps it’s a fate befitting the restaurant founded by Glen Bell that the move isn’t a last ride, but rather a new beginning. After all, Bell launched numerous, short-lived franchise failures–Bell’s Burgers, Taco Tia and El Taco–before birthing his Taco masterpiece.
Perhaps Taco Bell Número Uno, like Glenn Bell, can rise from the ashes to accomplish something even greater, and remind us that, like the cheese scraps we all secretly scoop up and eat at the end of our Taco Bell meal, there’s still greatness left in all of us.
Taco Bell says the building’s future and its final location are yet to be decided. Here’s hoping they’ll think outside the bun, just like the great Glenn Bell, founder of Taco Bell Número Uno.