(Inspired by the lot at McSweeney's.)
I have been reviewing our exchange for more than an hour now, and I’m still not entirely sure what went wrong.
I waited for you patiently while you took care of the woman in front of me. She whispered her order slowly, as though she were contemplating the philosophical implications of sour cream on a burrito. She asked for a cup of guacamole, then a cup of cilantro, and then a cup of hot sauce, and with each request her voice trailed off as though she was going to rescind it at any moment. It was odd, I’ll concede that; this is why when she was paying at the register and you were standing attentively by the lettuce – anticipating a final request – I did not complain. I didn’t check the time, I didn’t sigh in exasperation, I didn’t tap on the glass, and I didn’t start ordering until you came back to my end of the counter. I was the only person waiting and I didn’t want to potentially irritate the man who was going to prepare my lunch.
When you asked for my order, I was prepared. You see, I had been planning this meal since yesterday, when it was only a hypothetical dinner option: hard-shelled tacos filled with barbacoa, hot sauce, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce. Sometimes I opt for the same filling combination over rice as a burrito bowl, but I craved the crunch of the taco shell. Since I eat like a Mexican-bred bird, I considered ordering a kid’s meal (one taco, plus chips) but knew that if I only ordered one taco, it would be the best taco in the history of time and I would regret not having another to scarf down before I returned to my office. Plus, I’ve never really been one for plain chips. Three tacos, please.
We’re off to a good start: three taco shells in a to-go dish, a lid ready to top the dish off after assembly is complete. And then you dropped the ball. Allow me to clarify: by “ball,” I really mean that you dropped a four-inch chunk of fat-laden beef into one of the taco shells. Now, this is not an uncommon occurrence at Chipotle, but most employees I’ve encountered will attempt to break up the chunk (you made no attempt) and/or they will fill the remaining tacos comparably (you decided that 90% of my allotted beef was already in one taco shell, so the remaining two each received only a few bites of the expected shredded meat). I chose to keep my mouth shut because, after all, you are handling my lunch, and I am but a starving bystander while you slave over my meal.
Perhaps I inconvenienced you by requesting hot sauce? I can’t fathom how that is possible, because there was ample hot sauce on the line, and you spooned a bit into each of the taco shells (while I gritted my teeth and didn’t comment that all three tacos were given the same amount of sauce despite the varying amount of meat) with no problem. Why, then, did you decide to use sour cream as a weapon?
Now, I adore the sour cream you serve. I love it in the burrito bowl, I love it on tacos – hell, I even love it when some spills out and I have to lick it off of my thumb – but the sour cream is supposed to go inside the taco. A spoonful of sour cream should not span all three tacos, coating the shells’ edges like savory margarita glasses and dripping down the outsides like it was applied with a paint roller. Perhaps you were simply distracted by the sunny day, or by my frizzy hair (which I did wash before bed, but thanks to my pillow, that secret is safe). Maybe you resent me for being on my lunch break while you’re slaving inside an air-conditioned building, spooning various foodstuffs into bowls, tortillas, and taco shells. Whatever the case: tacos are traditionally eaten with one’s hands, and if I wanted to coat my hands with sour cream before picking one up, I would have asked for a cup on the side.
By the time you made it to the cheese and lettuce, I was already regretting my lunch choice, but I wasn’t going to be That Lady – you know, the one that asks you to make a burrito and then, once it’s wrapped, realizes, “Oh, wait, carnitas means pork? I don’t think I want that… make another one.” Also, I only get a half hour for lunch and fifteen minutes were already gone, so I just crossed my fingers on the food tasting better than it looked.
I could not, however, let it slide that by “cheese” you thought I meant to delicately arrange 17 shreds of cheese over the tacos, allowing each shred to stick to the sour cream-coated shells like a sprinkling of coconut over a frosted cake. I like cheese, and I like it inside my taco. Your hand was already pressing lettuce into the dish, covering the abominations you had constructed beneath, when I asked for more cheese; I was trying to be polite, because this cheese sprinkling appears to be part of training for every Chipotle employee, but I must have whispered too forcefully for you, because you are the first to respond by dropping a fistful of cheese onto the lettuce and then covering it with even more lettuce before putting your hand back into the cheese and asking, “Is that enough??” Yes, sir. I did not mean to insult you by requesting a proportional amount of cheese for the pot roast you crammed into one of my taco shells.
You sealed up the dish, plopped it in front of me, and then stood at the counter, staring out at the sun. There was no one at the register, and you did nothing to imply my lunch was on the house, so I waited. I waited as you swept shreds of cheese (now littering the counter after your enthusiastic addition to my meal) into a neat pile that you pushed to the side. I waited as you watched the cashier walk outside to the dumpster, never once mentioning to her that you had completed an order that needed to be run up. Finally, I waited as you began to whistle. Steam came out of my ears, but my mouth stayed shut. I just wanted to pay and wolf down my tacos in the privacy of my car and the parking lot of my office. Besides, I only have ten minutes left anyway.
When I opened the bowl, I inspected my meal. The fatty meat in the Taco of Overcompensation was barely salvageable. The other two tacos were mostly lettuce and hot sauce – hot sauce that was turning my crispy taco shells into baby food. Underneath a pile of cheese-infused lettuce, everything was white with a thin smear of sour cream that somehow managed to escape the inside of each taco, only gracing the outside of the shell. I took a knife and fork and began piling any edible meat, cheese, and lettuce onto half of the only taco shell that wasn’t soggy. I scraped sour cream off of the other shells and smeared it over the top of my impromptu nacho. I mumbled to myself that while I may not like my job, at least no one will go hungry if I fax an invoice upside-down.
I threw out two-thirds of the meat you served me because of the fat binding it together. I tossed two soggy taco shells and about a cup of shredded romaine into the trash as well.
But what I did manage to repopulate into a nacho (two, actually) was absolutely delicious.
See you next week. We’ll work on your sour cream distribution then.