“Just wait until I show you what we got!” My father beamed excitedly as we drove from the airport to my family home.
It wasn’t like my dad to be excited about something, or to want to pick me up from the airport. Though it was a short distance, he hated waiting for what was sure to be my delayed arrival.
This was some time in the late 90s, before we all had cell phones. I’d been living in Los Angeles for five years. I came home to visit at Christmas and, if I could afford it, during the summer. That summer, I could afford it.
I’d stayed in Los Angeles after studying there for a semester. I’d made some connections in the film and television industry and were able to turn those into jobs. Granted, five years later I was still a lowly production assistant, but I hoped to move up to a production coordinator soon.
It was difficult to explain my career and goals to my east coast family. Even when my name showed up in the occasional TV show credits.
“You won’t believe that we got one right here in Revere,” he channeled Robert Preston.
“We’re going now?” I asked. After nearly six hours on a plane, I wanted to get home to see my mother and have a delicious home-cooked meal.
“You’re going to be so surprised,” my father oversold it.
We turned into the parking lot of Northgate, the local shopping center.
“Does mom need something?” I asked.
“Can’t you see it?” he exclaimed as if Santa Claus were about to land on our car.
“We got a Taco Bell!”
The new building in the middle of the parking lot almost slapped me in the face. It was a small, but classic style Taco Bell. Complete with a drive-thru and some outside seating. A perfect addition to Squire Road, which housed our McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and two Dunkin’ Donuts (which would become four in a few years).
“That’s great,” I said.
“Just like Los Angeles.”
“Except out there, there’s one on every corner.”
One of the few in-depth conversations I’d had with my father during a return visit was how there were a plethora of fast food restaurants in Los Angeles, yet no Dunkin’ Donuts (they would take a few decades to get there). I mentioned there were tons of Taco Bells, where I recalled seeing only one on the North Shore of Boston. I was also surprised to find that El Torito was a chain restaurant. That conversation must have left an impression on my father.
“We’re finally catching up with you guys,” my father’s brag reminded me of the time he told our cutting edge tech neighbors that we got a VCR.
“You could say that.”
“Let’s get something.”
“You hate Mexican food,” I reminded him. He’d ordered a hamburger at my high school graduation dinner at El Torito . “And I don’t want to spoil mom’s dinner.”
“Just a little something,” he tempted. “Some tacos?”
“I love their Mexican Pizza.”
“I’ve never tried that. Let’s get one.”
Who was this person and what did they do with my unadventurous, meat and potatoes eating father?
He pulled into the closest parking spot.
“We’re going in?” I asked.
“Of course. It’s new. You have to see the inside.”
Before I could protest, he was out of the car.
As a kid, I’d always wanted to have something to bond with my father over. But he was a sports and news guy, while I was comic book and movies kid. I’d given up trying, but suddenly we were connecting over a fast food Mexican restaurant. I’ll take it.
He stopped as we entered and spread his arms as if he were about to welcome me to Jurassic Park.
“Looks just like the ones in Los Angeles , right?”
“Yeah…” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I couldn’t remember actually ever going inside a Taco Bell. I’d only been in their drive-thru.
“You wouldn’t know the difference, right?”
The patrons speaking with Boston accents would have given me a pretty big clue as to where I was.
My father proudly led me to the counter. A pale, young kid was waiting there to take his order.
“Hola!” my father blurted.
I wanted to crawl under the table. But was also slightly impressed that my father was attempting to speak Spanish to some kid who was probably studying it at Revere High School.
“We’ll have a Mexican pizza,” he told the cashier, then turned to me. “What else?”
“That’s enough. Don’t want to spoil our dinner.” When did I become the adult?
“Something to drink?”
He turned to the cashier, “And a couple of waters.”
As we waited, my father read the menu. “Look, they got everything. Burritos, nachos, both soft and hard tacos. What’s a tostada?”
Luckily our order came before I had to field any questions.
My father grabbed the tray and walked to the seat furthest in the corner. He excitedly opened the tiny pizza box.
“Should I use a knife and fork?” he asked sincerely.
“I use a spork,” I handed him the one on our tray. “Or my fingers.”
He opted for the spork. He had difficulty breaking off the first piece, but once he did, he shoved it into his mouth. His face lit up.
“Oh, that’s tasty!”
“Glad you like it.”
“I feel like we’re eating in Los Angeles.”
“OK.” That horse had been flogged to death, come back as a zombie and been decapitated.
“Now you can move back here.”
“Huh?” I’d lost some beat of the conversation.
“We got Taco Bell, all the other Los Angeles stuff is soon to follow. So it’ll be no different living there than here.”
A list of differences popped into my mind, but I didn’t speak any of them. “I’m happy there.”
“You could be happy here. And have Mexican pizza anytime you want.”
“I’ll think about it,” I lied.
I took a bite of my Mexican pizza. It tasted like home.