I’m an occasional bicyclist but at times I can be avid. During one of those times, I had the daily opportunity to make 25-mile bicycle excursions in the suburbs of Baltimore (thanks to unemployment). And about once a week I found it necessary to offset all this healthiness with a meal from Taco Bell.
Nothing can accentuate a job search like a bean burrito, no onions. Now if you have the poor neurological disposition to frequent “the Bell” you’ll notice they don’t really offer any facilities for the bicycle enthusiast. No bike rack, or poles to lock up a bike to, and they tended to frown upon a sweaty, spandexed man bringing his two-wheeled steed, covered in road grime, into to what I hesitate to refer to as their dining room.
So, I used the drive thru. And had used the drive thru several times until that habit was brought to a halt faster than a bean burrito, no onions, can bolt it’s way out of your lower intestine.
Let me set the scene. I waddled up to the speaker box, and waited for the familiar pre-recorded, ”Welcome to Taco Bell have you tried our Seven Layer Burrito? May I take your order?” (Am I the only one who finds it deeply saddening that the greeting at a drive thru has to be recorded by a company spokes model?) But there was no pre-recorded branding effort, only silence, interrupted by the occasional grumble from my stomach, “Hey! Where’s that stuff that tastes like food but works like a laxative? Let’s get this train a rollin’!”
I could see the Taco Bell Employee (taco taker? Bell boy?) perched in her bulletproof cubicle awaiting (like a trapdoor spider) the next opportunity to serve the unsuspecting public. I surmised that possibly the light weight of my “ride” hadn’t tripped the magic sensor that alerted El employee to my presence, so I cleared my throat and rapped on the speaker box. Still no response. I waved, nothing, said “hello” to the speaker box, whistled that jaunty whistle that Lou Costello used to alert Bud Abbot of the mummy’s immediate presence, but still nothing. Possibly the Bellivator Operator had taken a siesta?
And then she stared at me, correction, glared at me. What had I done wrong? Bike pants don’t have zippers, so that wasn’t it. Had I offended this female in the past? (Do you remember in the film “Terminator” when you would see things from the robot’s point of view? There would be lines of data as he checked his memory for the corresponding information. That’s what happens in my mind when a woman glares at me. Thanks mom.) OK, I thought, I’ve somehow pissed off the person who I’m trying to purchase food from. “Would you like hot or mild employee spit on that?”
She then stepped on the magic button that opens her window and hollered, loudly, “We don’t serve bikes!”. Aghast, yes my life is THAT boring, I looked at the speaker and retorted, “but you’ve served me before.” Long Pause, “Hello?”. (I’ve since surmised that the Taco Bell of the Ball equated communicating through the speaker box as “servicing” me. And since they “don’t serve bikes!”, well you see her conundrum.) I decided that this “We don’t serve bikes!” warranted further investigation.
I waddled up to the window. (explanation: when you road ride you need the bicycle seat higher than the handlebars so you get full leg extension. Instead of “mounting” the bike for short distances you walk it up, which, due to the bike frame, appears as a waddle) I stood directly in front of the Taco Bell employee, mere inches from the bean burrito, no onions, and she would NOT make eye contact. Now I’m used to women ignoring me but this wasn’t a date. After 20 seconds or so I reached out and knocked on the 2-inch thick window. She (we’ll call her Kim) dragged her eyes up and gave me that look which I believe was reserved for dirty diapers and toe nail fungus. It succeeded in saying, “I hate you” and “I don’t recognize your right to exist” all at the same time, while appearing bored as well. Kim pressed the magic foot button; the glass partition opened and she repeated at the same volume, “We don’t serve bikes!”
“Yeah I heard you the first time… Why?”
A look came across Kim’s face that told me her extensive training hadn’t covered this aspect of customer interaction. “I don’t know, we just don’t.”
“But you’ve served me before, what’s changed?”
Kim’s mouth hung open for an awkwardly long time. (If she had been replaced by an evil Star Trek robot she would have repeated “Error! Error! Error!” until her head exploded. Where’s Spock when you need him?)
I interrupted her stupor,” Can I talk to a manager?”
“Tanya! Customer!” Door shuts.
Tanya appeared, but I was under whelmed. Her uniform was eerily similar to Kim’s, maybe a little more “broken in”. (Manager? I think not. Lead prep maybe.) Behind the barrier Kim & Tanya had an intense discussion, they paused, looked at me in tandem with distaste, then continued their intense discussion. Tanya took a deep sigh as if to steal herself, gathered her thoughts, looked me in the eyes (door opened) and said, “We don’t serve bikes.”
NOTE: At this point a “real” customer, i.e. car had pulled into the drive thru. I was now not just an irritant but an irritant blocking the profitability of the entire Taco Bell family of Mexican-like eateries. Can you smell what the bicyclist is cooking?
A question came to my mind, ”Do you serve motorcycles?”
Tanya, rolling her eyes, “Yeeees.”
“Well legally, I’m the same thing.”
Tanya’s mouth was now gaping open as well. (Great, I’d now succeeded in breaking TWO Taco Bell employees. Productivity was gonna’ be way down in store #2416)
I roused her from her mental vacation, “Tanya, can I talk to a real manager?” (I know this comes across as “snippy” but she responded with a palpable look of relief.)
“Roger! Customer!” Door shuts.
Roger appears and he’s wearing a tie! Now I’ve hit fast food pay dirt. And the tie was adorned with little bells! They don’t hand those out to just any night manager, this was a power broker in the world of tortillas. My pulse quickened. Roger, through an intensive fact finding discussion, gathered the events up to this point, looked me over, adjusted his tie, opened the glass and confidently stated, “Sir, we don’t serve bikes.”
I’ll admit, the tie and the “sir” along with Roger’s air of refried bean power were seductive. But the combination of hunger and the strong sarcasm chromosome my people brought to this land kicked in. I went into full district attorney during cross-examination mode.
“Really Roger? You don’t serve bikes? If someone had just told me that we could have avoided all of this unpleasantness.” (It’s hard to write sarcastically, but let’s just say that there was sarcastic collateral damage a quarter mile in all directions) “Let me ask you Roger, why have you served me in the past?”
“Ummm”, Roger countered.
Where does it say you don’t serve bikes in your policy?
Ummm, touché Roger
Do you serve motorcycles?
You know that legally we’re the same thing.
I guess, his left eye was twitching
Do you have a bike rack?
Do you have anyplace I can lock my bike up?
Not really, lower lip quivering
Are bikes allowed in the restaurant?
I don’t think so. Skin ashen, sweat on brow
So, let me condense what you are saying Roger. Although you have no policy, no postings, no legal foot to stand on, you’re saying Roger, although you’ve served me in the past that you won’t allow me to spend my money at your or for that matter any Taco Bell in this fine nation ever again! Is that what you’re saying Roger?
He staggered back, the window closed, I was sure Roger was either going to pass out or vomit. Kim and Tanya looked on in dismay at the quivering hulk that mere seconds ago had been their gordita wrapped leader. He summoned his strength, opened the window a sliver (which I didn’t know you could do) and sputtered, ”Give him what ever he wants Kim.” Roger skulked off to drown his sorrows in whatever fermented taco sauce is called.
I pulled out my slim wallet, opened the Velcro (did I say I looked cool?) and prepared to place my hard fought for order. And there was Kim, my original porter on this Mexican-like escapade. She looked me square in the eyes and said, “I guess all that whining got you what you wanted, didn’t it?”
I was so famished that I didn’t reply, but as my order was being filled, I tattooed upon my frontal lobe the customer service phone number and branch number for Taco Bell’s corporate offices.
I scarfed down my bean burrito with no onions while dialing the number at home. I believe, that I spoke to almost 20 employees at Taco Bell. I spoke with a vice president of marketing, at least five customer service reps, an area manager, a District manager, and the mid-Atlantic vice president. I was invited to lunch with one of the District managers, we sat and chatted about all the things that could be fixed at Taco Bell. It was a long lunch. Then days later, I began to receive coupons, billions and billions of coupons. It has been 15 years since the initial event and I still have never paid for a Taco Bell meal. Somewhere in the stacks of coupons I believe I received an actual deed to a Taco Bell franchise. (I can be very convincing on the phone) It was a Taco Bell somewhere in the deep South so I didn’t really want it, I threw it back, so to say.
Then the weather turned cold, and bicycling was out of the question. When suddenly a day rose like the dawn, warm and full of possibilities. I biked for 25 miles that day, and as the ride was ending I decided to give my local Taco Bell another chance. I bicycled up to the speaker. And I could see behind the glass, a different Taco Bell employee. Not Kim! I looked her in the eyes and she gave me a warm knowing glance, opened the glass, and shouted, “ we don’t serve bikes!”