I worked at Taco Bell in Hamilton, Ohio from the Spring of 1976 until January 1979. Writing about the Taco Bell years would be far too long a story to be entertaining to the average bathroom blog reader so I intend to break them down into tiny episodes. This one is called “Burn ‘Em”.
I began at Taco Bell like a lot of teenagers by working the night shift. Anyone who has ever worked at a fast food restaurant knows that the saying “like night and day” emanated at the fast food restaurants and was used to describe the day shift and night crew. The day crew is serious, follows all the rules and if you see them on the street they look just like me and you. The night shift is quite the opposite. Oh they look normal alright, but there’s something about working evenings that brings out the ‘crazy’ in all of us. Even Ben Stein would be a crazy cut-up had he worked at Taco Bell with us in the late 70’s.
My Taco Bell night crew was generally efficient but we would cut up constantly. It was the funnest job I ever had in my life.
Back in the late 70’s all the ingredients were relatively high grade and we prepared everything ourselves according to Taco Bell protocol at the time. This included the beans, the meat, all the vegetables and the sauces. The sauces came into the store in large cans in a condensed state. We would add a prescribed amount of water to make the sauce suitable for human consumption. Without the water, the sauces were pretty potent – think strong enough to be regulated by the EPA and requiring special protective handling gear.
One night we decided to create our very own ‘secret burn sauce’. The recipe included uncut green sauce, many packs of the Taco Bell taco sauce and a large supply of very finely minced onion. It was extremely spicy to the palette. We kept a supply of the secret burn sauce in a plastic squirt bottle that we kept located conveniently behind the taco stuffing rack and out of sight from the customers.
Each night we would all anxiously await a perfect opportunity to use our secret ingredient. That opportunity would come anytime a customer would become nasty and disagreeable. When this would happen, with our backs to the customer, shoulder to shoulder at the taco rack we would whisper to each other the two magic words “burn ’em”. (OK, so ’em is not a real word – hey, if we had been smart we would have been working next door at Burger Chef). When those two words were uttered, one of us would reach behind the rack to acquire the special sauce. We would then have a great time watching the indoor customer sweat out the duration of his meal or imagine what was going on at home if it were a takeout order.
Some of you might be wondering why we never had any lawsuits. Perhaps had this been in post ‘too hot McDonald’s coffee days’ we might have. “My tacos were too spicy.” “Well, they’re supposed to be spicy.” “Not that spicy.”
My favorite episode went like this:
One night a man came in and ordered a few bean burritos. I took his order. It was my job to be friendly and nice – and I was. He was one of these older guys who just comes across as grumpy about life. He didn’t smile and he didn’t use any customary words of friendliness. He was just generally mean and exhibited a very nasty disposition.
A bean burrito was simple to make. You’d take out a flour tortilla from the steam cabinet, place it in your cupped hand and then use the large ice cream scooper to scoop up a load of re-fried beans onto the tortilla. Next you’d add a small ladle of red or green sauce, (whichever was asked for). Then you’d set the tortilla down onto the stuffing rack where you or another person would add the diced onions and shredded cheese. Finally, the tortilla would be folded according to Taco Bell procedures handed down from many generations before us.
Everything was going along as it should until the grumpy old man uttered aloud his next sentence – “you think those onions will break you up?” At this I turned around and very politely said, “would you like extra onions? You can have as many as you like.” To which he just nodded an affirmative and grunted. I then turned back to the rack and whispered to Leonard those two magical words, the words every Taco Bell night shift employee lived for – “burn ’em!”
Not only did we give him a healthy dose of special sauce on his burritos, but he got a whopping mound of onions too! His order was a takeout order so we had a great laugh imagining his trying to eat those things when he got home. We thought that was the end of the laugh but there was to be an additional chapter.
The very next evening a lady came into the restaurant and ordered some bean burritos. Naturally we didn’t think anything of it until she spoke to us while we were stuffing the burritos. “Please be careful not to put too many onions on them. My husband was in here last night and we could hardly eat the burritos because they were so hot.”
It was all we could do to contain our giggling and not crack a smile. Our special sauce likely didn’t change Grumpy’s attitude in other places, but we noted a remarkable improvement in his Taco Bell demeanor in subsequent visits. For those of you wondering, no we did not burn the grumpy old man’s wife. We made her the most excellent burritos we could. One shot of SBS (secret burn sauce) was considered capital punishment. We may have been irresponsible, but we were merciful.