Friday, June 06, 2008

COLUMN: Shortage

I bumped into a friend of mine the other day who asked me a question that I've repeatedly had to answer for the past three years that I've been fortunate enough to have this column.

"Hey Shawn," he said (because all people of Earth, even human beings that I've known and worked with my entire life, apparantly have no idea what my first name actually is,) "Where do you get your ideas from every week?"

"It's easy," I told him. "Just start thinking outside the bun."

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the source of all things humorous, wacky, and creative on Earth is your local Taco Bell drive-thru. I can't tell you how many times a quest for burritos has ended in me laughing so hard I've had to pull the car over. Some go there seeking chalupas; I go there seeking enlightenment.

There's only ONE place I've ever been greeted at the drive-thru with, "What the (expletive) do YOU want?" There's only ONE place where a drunken, semi-clad girl has leapt from her car behind me to perform a strip-tease on my bumper. There's only ONE place where I've ordered JUST a large Coke and heard, "Okay. What kind of sauce would you like with that?" Folks, the Taco Bell drive-thru is ALWAYS a good time out.

This week, however, things were different. I've always known that Taco Bell was a source for comedy, but I never knew that Taco Bell could also provide me with hard-line breaking news of a national crisis that has, until now, been wholly ignored by your local media.

I was driving around the other day when I realized that my life was lacking. Specifically, it was lacking a Cheesy Double Beef Burrito. I could see the welcoming pink bell of culinary goodness in the distance, so I made a bee-line for the drive-thru. I pulled up to the menu and that's when I saw it -- the sign that let me know that things weren't right in the world:


I sat there stunned for a moment as the gravity of the situation began to sink in. I could live with one Taco Bell's accidental failure to stock up on their products. But no, this was something far more troubling. This was, as the sign clearly stated, a NATIONAL SHORTAGE.

I headed home with concerned mind and empty stomach. How could I have been unaware that our great nation was being crippled by a shortage of both tortillas AND nacho cheese? Where were the warning signs? Why hadn't rationing been implemented? Who could be responsible for such a crime? NAFTA? Global warming?

Naturally, I lay the blame on myself. After all, for as much grief as I unload on them, I do feel single-handedly responsible for the fiscal security of my local Taco Bell. Some day, science will be able to confirm that I am composed of 23% nacho cheese. Perhaps the answer to the national shortage could be found right here in my rotund mid-section. I hope you're happy, Shane. You've eaten ALL the tortillas.

I don't have much experience in dealing with the woes of supply and demand. I was too young to remember the oil shortages in the 70's or Johnny Carson's ill-fated joke that once caused toilet paper to disappear from shelves for weeks on end. Until now, the only national shortage to affect me was my inability to get a Nintendo Wii, but I eventually found one of those suckers. Still, it takes energy to play Wii Sports -- energy usually obtained from a Cheesy Double Beef Burrito. Now I can't have cheese OR burrito? Man cannot live on Double Beef alone.

I had no choice but to venture off to a supermarket and (gasp) make my own food. There I was, wandering aimlessly down the aisles, wondering if my stove still worked after all these years, when lo and behold, what caught my eye? TORTILLAS. Package after package of the things! And further down? Nacho cheese! I couldn't believe it -- this supermarket had yet to hear of the nationwide Tortilla-N-Cheese catastrophe!

I could buy them out and be set on burritos for months! Better yet, I could set up a roadside stand and engage in some good old-fashioned price gouging. I called a friend to see if he wanted to help me in my bid to make gobs of money from a frightened, cheese-less nation.

"Can't talk, dude," he said. "I'm at Taco Bell, eating a burrito."

Sigh. That's right, the Great Tortilla-N-Cheese Shortage of '08 lasted about six hours. My dreams of profiteering in times of crisis were dashed, but I could at least nurse my wounds in the loving arms of a Big Beef Burrito. As a shift manager later explained to me, the "national shortage" involved only a handful of Taco Bells that weren't expecting their new menu, chock full of new and exciting ways to combine tortillas and nacho cheese, to be as wildly successful as it's been. They just ran the heck out of ingredients. On behalf of a grateful nation, I can only say: Whew.

Truth be told, I did a Google search and discovered that there is, in fact, an honest to gosh tortilla shortage down in Mexico that's really no laughing matter. Tortilla prices have gone up some 35% in the past two years. It turns out that more and more corn is being used for ethanol production, leaving less and less for tortillas -- so, in a weird roundabout way, I guess it IS global warming's fault. I like Al Gore a lot, but he better not come between me and my quesadilla.

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