Disclaimer: In no way did Taco Bell pay me to write this, nor were they even aware I was doing it. I simply love Taco Bell and value journalism. However, if Taco Bell would like to show their appreciation in the form of gift cards, I would graciously accept them.
Have you ever wondered what kind of person stands outside of Taco Bell at ten in the morning, waiting for it to open? Allow me to tell you, as I was recently one of them. More accurately, I was the only one of them. I leaned against the wall by the entrance, alone, waiting for it to be unlocked. Another man—a taxi driver—walked up, pulled the door to find it was locked, turned around, and drove away. I envied him. While his Taco Bell encounter lasted only a few brief seconds, mine would last for 12 consecutive hours. I had committed myself to spend the entire day—open until close—in Taco Bell.
When I entered the Bell right at 10:30 AM, the lights had not even been turned on yet. Watching a Taco Bell illuminate in the morning is the most defeating way to see lights get turned on, followed closely by the refrigerator lighting up at midnight when you realize you can’t sleep until you finish that last slice of pizza, and the club turning the lights on at 4 AM, forcing you to go home before you were able to trick someone into fucking you.
“Why would someone spend 12 hours in a Taco Bell?” is a very reasonable question you might be asking at this point. The answer can be summed up in three digits: 420. April 20 is the one day of the year that—for origins I am too lazy to research right now—America collectively celebrates the culture of cannabis. While I don’t partake in the intaking of weed, myself, I find weed culture funny, as years of Hollywood movies have conditioned me to do so. Movies present weed to be the gateway, not to harder drugs, but to hilarity. Weed is the first step on an adventure that takes you and Ashton Kutcher around the country looking for your lost car. Weed leads you to start a business called Mr. Nice Guy until a hilarious mix-up results in Jerry Garcia’s ghost saving you from a pimp named Samson. Weed is Smokey and Craig on another Friday in the neighborhood. Weed is Seth Rogen.
These were the kinds of hijinks I hoped to witness firsthand on this day, the weed Christmas, and if I wanted to see them, I knew I’d have to make a pilgrimage to the mecca of stoner food, Taco Bell. Taco Bell, more than any other fast food chain, is associated with getting stoned. Yes, more so than White Castle even though there was a movie about two stoner friends going there. Taco Bell knows what it’s doing. They know what their clientele is, and they know how to cater to them. Their commercials feature cheeses melting from absurdly named menu items in front of brightly colored backgrounds.
Before going any further, I should mention that I fucking love Taco Bell. When I was 13, Batman & Robin had just hit theaters (a good film to see under the influence of weed, I’m told). Taco Bell had a movie tie-in promotion where you could win a million dollars by collecting all of the characters on tickets you had to peel off of soda cups. My friend Mike and I would ride our bikes there every afternoon, scrounging up change to buy sodas, asking people if they were done with their cups, or sometimes straight-up rifling through the dumpsters. The only thing holding us back from becoming teenage millionaires was that fucking Alfred ticket.
So for most of my life, I have held a fondness in my heart for the Bell. More than simple purveyors of reasonably priced medium-quality food, they are a life model. I look to them for inspiration. Often when I am making important decisions, I will ask myself: Am I thinking outside the bun? At the end of each day I like to consider the broader question: Am I living mas? Could I live more mas? How much mas is too much mas to live? In my brief time on earth, I have concluded that you can never live enough mas.
As far as Taco Bells go, the one I decided to devote my day to is fairly unremarkable. It sits across from a giant industrial warehouse called Futon Factory and another place called Paul’s Plumbing Supplies. Next door is a supermarket that I frequent before rewarding myself for purchasing healthy groceries by picking up a chalupa or three for the road. This Taco Bell location has two stars on Yelp, which, even by Taco Bell standards is pretty bad. But I didn’t mind. Neither did the few dozen people who cycled in and out during the first two hours of the store’s opening.
While I would’ve been delighted to report that my morning at Taco Bell was filled with James Franco look-alikes waking and baking on comically huge blunts, and stopping by Taco Bell to fuel their wacky adventures—perhaps involving an accidental heist of some sort—sadly, that was not the case. In reality, most were just normal folks on their work breaks, stopping in for an early morning taco (this Taco Bell does not have a breakfast menu which is bulllllllshit). Everyone came in alone, ate their morning food in shameful solitude, and quietly left. My dreams of capturing the next viral video of a pothead too stoned to find his wallet, only to realize he was holding it, were quickly dashed.
After the lunch rush died down, I realized I had been sitting in the same spot in my corner booth for over four hours. With cabin fever starting to set in, I started texting friends, pleading with them to please, please come visit me, but everyone was at their “jobs.” It’s often said that you can tell who your true friends are when you need help moving. To that I say, only can you know your truest of friends when you are sitting alone in a Taco Bell for an entire day for no real reason.
As I sat there, consuming Doritos Loco tacos and Crunch Wrap Supremes, washing them down with Mountain Dew (when thinking outside the bun, it is important to also Do the Dew), disappointment started to set in. Thus far, the customer who most embodied the weed culture lifestyle was a nine-year-old boy who looked like the kid from Up. He sat there putting together a Batman Lego set and murmuring to himself for 30 minutes while his tiny grandmother silently ate an order of chicken fingers. (I should mention that this location is technically a Taco Bell/KFC combo, although I don’t care if the menu is entirely chicken options with only a single soft shell taco offered. NEVER shall I refer to it as a Taco Bell/KFC. It is a fucking Taco Bell first and foremost and I will fellate Colonel Sanders himself before I acknowledge otherwise.)
By the time 4:15 rolled around, I realized we were minutes away from the ceremonial 4:20 mark. Surely, this would be where the stoners rolled in and kicked off their hijinks. I counted the seconds to 4:20 like my own private New Year’s Eve, but nothing happened at the stroke of zero. None one busted in with a plot to save Danny McBride from trouble or anything. It was unceremonious and bleak, so in a way, it was exactly like New Year’s Eve. For the next ten minutes, I listened to two guys in the parking lot revving the engine to their muscle car and the little girl across from me repeatedly burping. These sounds serenaded me as my sad little “Auld Lang Syne.”
Shortly after that, I realized I had been sitting in the same spot for nearly seven hours with no bathroom breaks, and, aside from the two times I ordered food, no human interaction. This was going horribly. So I called an audible on the day. I was leaving Taco Bell. Where was I going? To another Taco Bell. I made the decision to head to the Taco Bell in Manhattan’s Union Square. Located among NYU students and the skaters of Union Square Park, this, surely, would be where I could find me some good weed happenings.
When I got off the train at Union Square, the first person I saw was a kid wearing a huge, gold weed leaf around his neck. Truly, I had found my people. I headed into the Taco Bell and settled into my new home, adjusting to the subtle differences in the room. For example, this location is a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut which took some getting used to. Again though, no real 4/20 hilarity to speak of. Just more normal people consuming their combo meals in peace.
After a while, my friend Mitchell came to visit me. I was so excited to see a human I recognized that I hugged Mitchell long and tight and whispered in his ear with the utmost sincerity, “I’m so glad you’re here, my friend,” which is funny because I don’t even like Mitchell very much.
Mitchell placed a very specific order:
1 Quesarito™ with sour cream
1 Supreme pizza (unsliced) combo with breadsticks and a large soda
4 sides of sour cream
1 side of nacho cheese
“Are you high?” asked the cashier, Danielle, who coincidentally recognized Mitchell from his photography work which was used on the cover of some pop punk album. Mitchell, for the record, was not high, he was just extremely hungry in Taco Bell on 4/20, and when in Rome.
“Surely you must see worse than this on 4/20,” I posed to her. Her response to that was “not really.” She later told me she could write a book on all the wild shit she’d seen in Taco Bell, and I believed her, and would gladly read said book and have already come up with a title for it should she choose to pursue that endeavor: Yo Quiero My Sanity: A Life Lived Mas at Taco Bell.
So impressed with the sheer gluttony of Mitchell’s order was Danielle that she gave us some complimentary caramel apple empanadas which were exquisite. (If anyone from Taco Bell HQ is reading this, please give this saintly woman a raise and a promotion for her impeccable service. Unless employees are not allowed to give customers free food, in which case I was just kidding earlier when I said she gave them to us. I just remembered that I actually found them on the ground, so nevermind.)
Mitchell took his Quesarito™ (which I struggled with the pronunciation of all evening and can only hope I was doing justice to its proud Mexican origins) and wrapped a pizza around it. Then he dipped that in the sour cream and nacho cheese and ate it. After a few seconds, it was nothing more than a dripping, mashed-up ball of food in his hands that he was chomping at as if it was a big apple. We estimated that the dietary contraption clocked in at over 3,000 calories, and he finished the thing within five minutes. I pride myself on my iron stomach and speed eating, but this was a truly impressive feat, and I commend him for fully immersing himself in the 4/20 spirit.
After we had spent a few hours in the Union Square Taco Bell talking about Taco Bell, Mitchell took off as he didn’t “see the point” in spending the rest of a perfectly beautiful spring night in Taco Bell. But for me, a person for whom time has no intrinsic value in the face of journalistic pursuit, I did see the point. So, with only a couple of hours remaining on the day, I dragged my cheese-bloated earth vessel over to a third Taco Bell location, this one centralized in the heart of New York’s most dreaded hellpit, Penn Station. In case you’ve never been, Penn Station is what a massive train station would look like were it designed by mental patients, and it smells like the underwear of a defensive end who has been riding a Bolt Bus for 48 straight hours. There also happens to be a Taco Bell in it. More specifically, a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut/KFC/Nathan’s/Tim Horton’s/Häagen-Dazs combo.
It was not a perfect setting in which to cross the finish line, but it would have to do. Plus, it was only two hours away from closing. As someone who had by this point spent ten hours in various Taco Bells throughout New York City, two hours was nothing. I felt like a seasoned veteran of the prison system who could serve a one-year misdemeanor sentence standing on his head.
When I walked in, Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” was playing over the speakers which was a little on-the-nose for 4/20, if you ask me. Also keeping me company over the next 120 minutes were Pink Floyd, the Doors, Shaggy, the Allman Brothers, and Bob Dylan, catering to the “college freshmen named Josh who just got stoned for the first time” demographic.
I asked the cashier, Rosy, if she had any of those caramel apple empanadas I’d grown to love so much over the last hour. She walked to the back of the kitchen, opened a big industrial freezer, revealing a non-descript box. “Yeah we have ‘em,” she said. While Rosy was very nice and helpful, she was no Danielle. I missed Danielle. I missed the way she would give me a knowing smile while sliding me my gratis dessert empanadas. It was sort of our “thing.” The empanadas Rosy served me tasted funny, and lacked a certain ingredient which I would describe as love. Also, maybe the realization that it went from frozen to piping hot in literally six seconds turned me off.
I ate half of my empanada while scoping out everyone in room. No weed adventurers there, either. Just some tired folks who seemed like they were looking at the end of a long, long day, and I sympathized. Before I knew it, it was closing time. Just after 10 PM, the employees started wiping down the tables around me and emptying the trash cans while the remaining customers began slowly filtering out. It was the end of the line for me—in a proverbial sense, I mean (although, yes, I’m sure I will one day meet my ultimate demise in Taco Bell).
Prince’s “Purple Rain” came on the speakers to close out the night to the delight of myself and one woman across from me who started singing it aloud. Right as I was exiting the Bell into the hall of Penn Station, Prince dropped the line “I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain,” and as the drum fill kicked in, I raised one fist up triumphantly like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club. I like to imagine the movie about my brave story will freeze-frame here as the credits roll. Purple rain, purple rain.
The train ride home was bittersweet. On one hand, I scored a personal victory by accomplishing what I set out to do: spend an entire 4/20 inside Taco Bell. But I didn’t get what I came for. I didn’t see the weed hilarity. There were no hijinks, no zany adventures to be seen. No Seth Rogen. The most egregious 4/20 activity I’d seen was a completely sober Mitchell eating a balled-up mess of calories out of his hand like the disgusting trash person he is.
I went home feeling dejected, like I had accomplished nothing with my day and all I had to show for my life was a stomach full of Taco Bell. And it was in that moment that I understood the true meaning of 4/20.
This article was written in loving memory of the Taco Bell dog. RIP.
Follow Dan Ozzi on Twitter - @danozzi