Ken Leighton 6 p.m., Aug. 24
So, it definitely happened. I went to Taco Bell and ate one of those special tacos where the shell is supposedly made from Doritos Nacho Cheesier chips. It came with specially packaged salsa that asks "who do I write the thank you note to?" and a little cardboard sleeve to deliver one last dose of hype via claims of "awesomeness" and a scannable QR code.
It tasted like a Taco Bell taco that had been dusted with the bright orange seasoning that coats Doritos. I don't feel as though it was actually made from pure Doritos; it tasted like a regular taco shell that had been seasoned.
I know, I know. It's wack to be eating at Taco Bell when I live mere moments, in any direction, from some of the most killer tacos in the world. But I have my reasons.
Reason 1: while it's an unsubstantiated rumor, I heard that some guys drove like 900 miles to get their hands on some of these. That's absurd, fanatical behavior and I like paying homage to such overzealous kooks.
Reason 2: I grew up in, comparatively speaking, the middle of nowhere. Taco Bell was always a special treat and sort of a trip to an exotic Bizarro world where little chi-chis advertised tacos via remedial Spanish. Returning to that spot in the past is a little heartwarming for me, even if the last time I ate at a Taco Bell I got in a fight with my friend and left him in the parking lot to fend for himself. His mom had to come get him. Kids can be so cruel. Of course, that was the same friend with whom I would buy massive bags of nacho chips to fuel overnight video game sessions, so it's not like we treated each other badly all the time.
Anyways, perhaps the more relevant part of this entire experience is the almost post-modern theory of eating that governs the invention of something like the Doritos Locos taco. If they're anything, fast food restaurants are the enigmatic combination of dining and advertising perfected. The glowing signs and billboards that allow one to choose between the infinite iterations of culinary sameness appeal not to a sense of gastronomy, but to a sense of consumerism that's probably a result of being exposed to frantic levels of advertising since most of us first opened our little baby eyes. At least, that's what people who are a lot smarter than me say....
How does that relate to the Doritos taco? Well, I think that the idea of the thing is a lot more appealing than the thing itself. It's the kind of idea that will compel some loon to cross state lines in search of mediocre takeout food. It's also the kind of idea that can tap into lifetimes of memories, some good some bad, and generate waves of nostalgia in otherwise stoic hipsters. The product itself is usually underwhelming at best and disgusting at worst, but the idea is rooted in such deeply held, unconscious structures that the food becomes a viable commodity, even if only for a little while.
Maybe that's Eating 2012, the new face of food, or at least one of them. It's only a matter of time before the cutting-edge chefs catch on to this and play catch-up with the fast-food empires. Although it's not like that isn't already happening in more upscale, trendy markets. It wasn't that long ago that a lot of food trucks popped up like crazy, sold mediocre food with extra coolness on top, and made a bunch of money while we sat around and ladled on the praise. That's not to say that there weren't and won't be plenty of tasty meals served out of a truck, but the vast majority didn't deserve the automatic support of a public hungry for the next cool thing instead of the next delicious thing.
At the risk of sounding overly pessimistic about all this, I'll add the caveat that the Doritos Locos taco gave me genuine pleasure and I'm quite honestly glad I went out, bought one, and slipped into an emotional time warp that left me not caring whether or not the salsa should actually say "to whom do I write the thank you note?"
Doritos Locos Tacos are available at your local Taco Bell until they are discontinued and slip from memory to become just another Crystal Pepsi.