Some quick investigating revealed that I was much lower on the social media totem pole than many of my competitors, one of whom was a singer from California with 88,000 followers who managed to get his plea for Taco Bell–themed bed sheets to trend worldwide. I’d long been a voluntary shill for the company, but something felt dirty about shilling at the company’s direct behest. I decided to be a trained seal with principles, dedicating all my promiscuous hoop-jumping to the pursuit of the most extravagant prizes. The second mission, delivered via automated recording, was one such prize:
On the beach in sunny California, or taste your first Waffle Taco in New York City. Just use #wakeuplivemas #contest and tweet where you want to try Taco Bell's breakfast in the continental United States. Be sure and tell us why. We'll pick a favorite and legit fly you there. For real.
The timbre of the voice on Taco Bell’s automated messages could only be described as Knowing Bro: too cocksure for you to dismiss, too clueless to not say “legit” in nearly every single message, and too casual to begin a transmission with a simple hello. I sprang into action, tweeting that I wanted to be sent to Downey, Calif., home of the very first Taco Bell. (It was early in the morning, OK?) When the phone rang hours later, I scrambled to pick up, hoping it was a call to name me as the winner:
[Name withheld] has a court-ordered appearance for a desk appearance ticket and must appear at Bronx Criminal Court at 265 E. 161st Street, Bronx, N.Y., 10451, on Tuesday, March 25 at 9:30 in the morning. If you have received a desk appearance ticket from the police and the date and time are different from the information you just heard, follow the directions on the desk appearance ticket.
After this Kafka-esque directive, I wanted to speak out. It had become clear that my burner had a history. But I also felt like I would be betraying the honor bestowed upon me by my favorite brand if I suddenly began committing digital samizdat against the taco state. I also wanted to grant the rare reprieve that no one in my life circle ever gives Taco Bell: the benefit of the doubt. Maybe my burner was a fluke. As if anticipating my concerns, Taco Bell soon sent a clarifying text:
Taco Bell: When we call, we’ll call from 949-863-8339 or 310-866-2965 and we’ll text from 75289. Accept no imitators. and disregard messages from other numbers.
The rest of the week was a blur of promised riches and urgent reminders, none of which really seemed to be addressed to me. Tweet a haiku and get a Waffle Taco T-shirt. I’m calling about your ConEd bill. Don’t forget to hashtag your sleepy selfie for a chance to win $100. Hello, this is Marie Curie High School … Show us your excited face on Instagram.
A final text came on Wednesday night announcing that the missions were over. All that was left was breakfast. Just after 7 a.m. on Thursday, not far from Union Square, I ordered what might have been the first A.M. Crunchwrap and Waffle Taco ever served in New York City.
Biting through the Crunchwrap’s tortilla wrapper and into that gratifying medley of bacon, hash browns, cheese, and egg, I was just another guy eating a $5 breakfast on 14th Street. At that moment, I was reminded that one reason I enjoy Taco Bell is precisely because I don’t feel like an insider when I eat it. I could be wanted in court, in hock to ConEd, parent to a delinquent child, or just someone who had decided he could live mas without getting too close to his brand—and none of it would matter. In other words: Never send to know for whom the Taco Bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
When I got home, sated, I received another text on my breakfast phone:
Hey Family I just thought I would let you know that Tuesday I had my store Manager interview and I passed! So I think as of April 16th when my knew store opens I will officially be a store manager. :)
I knew this was a good time to turn off my breakfast phone for good. But then I got the sudden urge to play Luxor Quest.