It’s always the beef Quesarito.
You ever sit in a parking lot of Taco Bell, see a woman sitting in her car, make-up all done up, dressed like she’s an ambitious intern presenting at a board meeting, scarfing down one of these bad boys in her SUV? Yeah, that’s me. Hi. No, please don’t come over. Seriously, not the time dude.
I can count the amount of times I’ve eaten inside an actual Taco Bell on one foot, but the drive-thru? The drive-thru is my hometown. Pretty sure at this point I could navigate it blindfolded while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance backward. I haven’t ordered Diablo Sauce in months, but it shows up in my bag anyways, like I’ve got a guardian cashier who knows I need something to burn my tongue to cinders. To give me a reason why everything tastes like ash. Why I feel so burnt out.
I order the Quesarito meal every time. Soft taco. Diet Pepsi. Extra chipotle sauce on the side. Yes, extra napkins, I am a sloppy bitch. Not when I eat, just, like, in general. You never know when that stack of napkins in your car is going to come in handy. Friend skins a knee, impromptu period emergency, Queen of England dumps her tea in her lap. Always be prepared. Mom never let me join the Girl Scouts, doesn’t mean I can’t act like one.
They threw me through a loop when they changed the combo menu, which is just rude. Did I miss an email or something? Who approved this chaos? And now the default is the steak, which is a mis-steak. I want my mystery meat, thank you. Lord knows it’s the only amount of intrigue there is in my life. The steak is never as good — it’s missing that flavor that comes from sitting in a vat for hours and hours, just waiting to be slopped into a tortilla. The sweat, the desperation, being stared at by teenaged boys and overqualified Latinx women all day.
So yeah, I am one of those people who goes through the drive-thru and then parks to eat. I try not to think about what I look like, seat reclined back, horror podcast blasting, alone with a meat-cheese concoction that someone, somewhere would rather die than eat. I try not to think too hard about what I look like overall. As a rule, I mean. Spend too long obsessing over yourself and you’ll be too self-conscious to do what you actually want. No one cares, not really. Not when they’re lying there in the night, going over all their regrets. Any jokes or barbs thrown your way, that’s all just leftovers. Reheated insults they’ve already told themselves or heard from others. Microwaved mockery.
Can’t take it home with me. That’s why I park in the lot, as close to as garbage can as possible. If it stinks up the car, no one notices. Can’t bring it into the house. They’ll smell it, they’ll ask questions. They’ll tell me I’m eating crap, they’ll point to the scale. I don’t want the hassle; I want the solitude. The space in-between work and home to be nothing to no one. To eat my processed fast food in peace, sit in the potential of turning left instead of right and disappearing into the night. When I go home, it’s a choice. I choose this. I keep choosing it. I’ll keep choosing it until I don’t. I keep choosing to believe that’s true.
God, why doesn’t Taco Bell sell margaritas?
Inevitably, my phone pings with an email, cutting off the podcast right when it’s getting gory. Even though my heart stops when I hear it, it’s never anything important. Old habits, am I right? For a minute, I sit in the car, wrappers in the paper bag ready to be thrown away, staring out at the barely maintained lawn, at the cars driving by, at the darkened office spaces. I let myself wonder about all the things I’ll never see or know, all the things I’ve already missed out on.
Swing open the door. Drop the bag into the trash. Strap back into the car. Check mouth for sauce stains. I try not to focus too hard on my face when I do.
And in a way, it’s a comfort. Always the same, year in and year out. It’s always the same parking lot. It’s always the same emails. It’s always the podcast in the dark. It’s always the Diablo sauce I didn’t ask for. It’s always me, in the car, alone. It’s always the choice at the end of the night to turn right.
It’s always the beef Quesarito.
Sara Roncero-Menendez is a NY-based writer who has published poetry, essays, and a short comic in The Dark Lady Returns anthology. She also works as a film and television journalist in her spare time and is a self-proclaimed horror nerd. Follow her on Twitter @sararomenen.