The Last
Taco Truck
in Silicon
Valley

Original fiction by Michelle Richmond
Illustrations by Roman Muradov

I

am speaking to you from the back of a taco truck, where I am being held against my will. My hands are cuffed, my options slim. There is much to discuss. There is much at stake. Should I fail the task that has been set before me, I fear that everything I hold dear will be taken away. To make things worse, there is not a taco in sight. My stomach is grumbling and my eyes are watering from the lingering aura of the Red Savina Habanero, El Taco Hombre’s secret ingredient, which is no secret to me. But El Taco Hombre is not cooking. No, he is pacing, he is agitated, he has turned from friend to captor. It is an ugly business.

Before I explain to you how I came to be captive in the back of a taco truck at the junction of Saratoga Avenue and I-280, beneath an underpass in San Jose, California, I should tell you that I like tacos, all kinds of tacos. I like fancy tacos, I like cheap tacos. I like fish tacos, beef tacos, chicken tacos, pork tacos. I like them all.

And yet, in my mind, there is only one true taco. It's the one that comes from a taco truck and is eaten in a parking lot out front of your office or school or library or gymnasium or corner bar. It's a soft flour tortilla, as messy as it is delicious, stuffed to overflowing with fish chunks or chicken chunks, a little salsa, some guacamole if you’re lucky, shredded cheese (both yellow and white), perhaps a pepper of unknown variety. It’s served in tin foil, or on a paper plate, along with a few paper napkins, and there is no polite way to eat it, no way to appear pristine or ladylike or precious. In this sense, it is a democratizing food. Everyone, when eating from a taco truck, exhibits a kind of primitive hunger, a daring loss of etiquette. It could be said that the taco truck is the great equalizer.

There used to be plenty of Taco Trucks in Silicon Valley

There used to be plenty of taco trucks in Silicon Valley. They had names like "Los Compadres," "El Farolito," "Tacos on the Go," "Tacos Tacos Tacos," “Tres Tacos,” “Taco Mundo,” and "El Taco Royale," and they would cruise up and down Shoreview and Rengstorff, Almaden and Lawrence Expressway, Page Mill Road and El Camino Real. Sometimes they’d park at the Hiller Aviation Museum, or across the freeway from Moffett Field. You could always find one. All you had to do was scan the big parking lots and major intersections. I had my secret spots, my favorite trucks. Just a few years ago, I could pull in, jump out of the car, order two tacos and a Los Jarritos Orange from some guy who knew my name and my order, and be back at work in 25 minutes, my blouse stained with salsa verde, my breath smelling faintly of carnitas.

I'm not sure when the taco trucks began thinning out. There were some licensing issues, if memory serves. There was the snafu with the Google buses, which paid the city a whole lot of money to park where some of the most popular taco trucks had made their living for many years. Maybe the last straw was the GoPro affair, which began with two dozen interns eating salmonella-infested tacos at a team building event in Milpitas and ended with a lawsuit and the trending hashtag #tacotruckfail.

But the truth is, even without the Google buses and the licensing issues and the ugly business with the salmonella, it is unlikely that the taco trucks could have survived. In the last eight years, with the rise of the Silicon Valley perk, and the appearance of cafeterias in every office and on every campus—as many as 19 in some places—the coders and programmers and team leaders and mid-level managers and customer service representatives of Silicon Valley have stopped patronizing taco trucks. When they see the trucks in the parking lots and on the roads of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, they just drive right by, their bellies already full of organic quinoa curry spiced salad and Thai noodles and fresh-baked scones that they received, free of charge, in some comfortable, wildly colorful cafeteria located a mere fifty feet from their desks. The workers of Silicon Valley no longer need taco trucks.

Not so long ago, there were a few dozen taco trucks roaming this valley, the way the bison roamed the valley eons before. Now, there are no bison in Silicon Valley, and only one taco truck: El Taco Hombre. I'm on the guy’s email list, I have his Find My Taco app on my phone, and I’ve been visiting him several times a week for years. While he makes my tacos, we talk. In the beginning, when the lines were long and the tacos constructed with unnerving speed and precision, we exchanged just a few harried words between customers. But as the lines thinned, our conversations lengthened. We started with small talk—our jobs, our neighborhoods, books and movies, that sort of thing—and moved on to talking about our families, our respective significant others, our breakups, our dreams, and finally, our past. It is fair to say that I have been engaging in meaningful conversation with El Taco Hombre five days a week, 49 weeks a year, going on three years. As a result, I know him better than I know my boyfriend, better than I know my family back in Florida. Perhaps I even know him better than I know myself. And he knows me. Last year, when his sister got sick and he needed to get to Reno to help with her kids, he didn't call his girlfriend or his ex-wife or his cousin in Redwood City, he called me. I don't want you to get the wrong idea. There’s nothing romantic about it. We have a Taco Truck Guy and customer relationship, unusually close but utterly platonic, the kind of relationship you might enjoy with your barber or your barista, only more intense.

I say unusually close because I know a secret about El Taco Hombre, something he hasn’t told any other customer: El Taco Hombre is not Mexican. He may want you to think that--the black hair dye, the nice goatee, the vague references to his fictitious hometown, Todos Santos, and the occasional comments about his mother Guadalupe and his father Santiago. He will talk about his Grandmother Carmelita's famous salsa recipe--no, you may not have it--and he will spout off with no prompting about his aging uncle Salvador and how they trekked north together not so many years ago. Do not be fooled. It is all a carefully constructed lie.

In fact, his name is Daniel. He grew up in Portland, went to Stanford and nearly graduated, worked at Intel for a bit, did programming at Playstation in the nineties, and had stints, like so many of us, at Marvel, Symantec, HP, Cisco, and Juniper. He has eleven patents related to radio waves, a one-bedroom condo in Cupertino, and a cabin he's restoring in La Honda. Of course, his uninteresting personal history is rendered irrelevant by the fact that his tacos are mouth-watering, with just the right balance of heat and chill, savory and sweet, crunchy and soft. How important is the authenticity of the person when the product itself reeks of authenticity? Did I mention he makes his own sour cream?

“They’ll be looking for me,” I tell Daniel. “You’ll never get away with this.” I am sitting on the floor of the taco truck, wrists cuffed and secured to the fridge handle. Finally, he has released the gag, but my mouth still feels dry, lint from the white dishtowel—“freshly laundered,” he assured me hours ago, when he stuffed it into my mouth, “I’m no monster”—still sticking to my tongue.

"They'll be looking for me," I tell Daniel

I would like to believe that what I say is true. But I know in my heart that no one will be looking for me anytime soon. My boyfriend, who has recently been appointed scrum master for a new virtual reality game designed to raise awareness about deforestation while gathering actionable data about the purchasing habits of would-be environmentalists, has vowed to tune out all distractions until launch date, June 2017. I, being a distraction, am easily tuned out. I imagine him, days from now, huddling with the others beneath the leafy green indoor foliage that has been imported from Brazil. “What did you do yesterday?” he asks his eager team members. “What will you do today?” He is sweating, because the foliage must be kept at a steady tropical temperature of 87 degrees, gently watered with carefully orchestrated rainfall, both for the survival of the plants and the inspiration of the team. He wears long sleeves to ward off the mosquitoes, also specially imported for authenticity, although the mosquitoes have been reproducing more rapidly and more prolifically than anyone anticipated. The spiders that were released to deal with the mosquitoes are multiplying as well, their large, opalescent bodies creeping over the foliage, the equipment, the REI tents that have been set up to accommodate the team members in the unfortunate event that one of them should need a nap. In such a forest, among such a team, enveloped in such a spirit of innovation and ambition, of what consequence is a kidnapped girlfriend? None at all.

It is 3:14 p.m. on a Wednesday, and I have been captive in the back of the taco truck since 10:42 this morning. Today, as every day, I arrived at the truck at 10:30, anticipating lunch. It may seem early for lunch, unless you consider the fact that I start my day at 4 a.m. and eat breakfast in the cafeteria at five, so by 10:30, I’m famished. (When I moved to California seven years ago, my East Coast friends made derogatory comments about the supposedly laid-back lifestyle, the easy hours I’d be working, slumping into the office at ten and taking long lunch breaks. They couldn’t have been more misinformed. Silicon Valley gets up earlier and stays up later, and makes the New York work ethic look positively European by comparison.)

Anyway, I had just parked my car and was already salivating at the thought of El Taco Hombre’s latest creation, the Cohete de Fuego—a sinus-clearing combination of rice, beans, beef, and red chilies—when I noticed that the window was closed. I checked my wristband: I’d taken a measly 1,873 steps today, my heart rate was holding steady at 73, I’d gotten six and half minutes of UVA exposure, there was $19.33 left in my Philz account, my Baidu stock was way up, my Twitter stock was way down, my friend Dorothy had just burned 2,624 calories on a 7.5 mile run, my coworker Darryl was on page 597 of the latest Karl Ove Knausgaard memoir, my mother wanted me to call, and it was 10:30 on the dot.

Just then, Daniel appeared from around the side of the truck, looking like a sad version of himself. His hair was greasy, and I recognized his Dukakis T-shirt—“Good jobs at good wages!”—from the day before. When I came closer, I realized that he smelled not of tacos, but of of pine.

“Dude,” I said, “what’s with the air freshener?”

“Didn’t have time to shower this morning,” he mumbled. I was about to gently remind him of the many uses of cologne and baby wipes when he grabbed me by the shoulders and blurted, “Evangelista, I need your help.”

I'm the chief evangelist for a hoodie startup. I'm sure you've heard of us.

He calls me that, Evangelista, not because I remind him of a super model, but because I’m the Chief Evangelist for a hoodie startup in Palo Alto. We make only one thing—hoodies—but we make the best hoodies on the planet. At least, that’s the word on the street. I’m sure you’ve heard of us. I’m sure you’ve seen our ads on half the websites you regularly visit—only, they don’t look like ads. They look like editorials from satisfied journalists who simply cannot stop talking about, well, the best hoodie on the planet, the softest hoodie they have ever worn, the hoodie so sturdy it will last a lifetime and is therefore carbon neutral. “The Heirloom Hoodie,” raved a reporter for The Washington Post. “The Only Hoodie You’ll Ever Need,” said a writer for the San Jose Mercury. “Hemp Is the New Cashmere,” claimed The Noe Valley Voice. Hell, you probably already own at least one by now (our research shows that if a thing is so amazing that you only need one, you’re four times as likely to buy it in multiples). That’s how good I am. That’s why Hey Hemp Hoodie!, IPO forthcoming next quarter, pays me handsomely to be their Chief Evangelist.

Anyway, he grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Evangelista, I need your help!” Then he led me over to the back of the truck, where the door was open. The only other time I’d seen full inside the truck was that time when he had to go to Reno, and he asked me to move the truck each morning so he wouldn’t be fined, or worse, towed. This morning, it looked so clean in there, so pristine, it made me sad. I remember a time when the truck was a disaster, when El Taco Hombre was serving 800 tacos a day, keeping two recent Cal grads gainfully employed and fully insured, including dental, turning a handsome profit. Back then, his mise en place was shameful, but I didn’t mind, because I figured that was what it took to make the magic happen. I’ve never exactly kept a tidy desk, so I can get behind creative chaos.

But this morning, when I peered into the truck, all I saw was an expanse of gleaming stainless steel. The truck smelled of nothing, except a faint hint of cleaning fluid and the pine-scented air freshener. The floor was spotless. “Hey,” I said, “why aren’t you set up?”

At this point, I was feeling antsy, because I needed to get my lunch and get back to my desk. We had a new hoodie launching in seven days—which is really just the same old hoodie in a new color, eggplant—and I had a few hundred texts to send, a few dozen phone calls to make, a few select journalists to contact to ask about their planned coverage. To embargo or not to embargo? That is the question. More important, perhaps, I had to figure out what I was going to wear at the press conference in six days, a decision which was more complicated than you might imagine. Should I go with the eggplant, or, to be precise, Mediterranean Sweet Eggplant—a color precisely formulated by the Senior Color Master at Pantone to authentically match the most popular variety of eggplant in Northern California—in order to raise awareness for the new color? Or should I wear the tried-and-true navy, to show that Hey Hemp Hoodie! is that rare gem among stones, a startup with our feet on the ground? These were the sorts of things I worried about five short hours ago, before everything went sideways.

The problem, Daniel explained to me, after he’d led me into the truck and shut the door behind him, after he’d lured me deep into the truck with the promise of a fresh batch of guacamole and then cruelly wrestled me to the ground and cuffed me to the fridge handle, after he’d gagged me with the freshly laundered washcloth and forced me to sit, afraid and trembling, for three solid hours while he hunched behind the steering wheel blasting Badly Drawn Boy from the speakers—was that he was about to go bankrupt. Business was worse than I could imagine, he told me, pacing the narrow galley. He couldn’t make the payment on the truck, he had suppliers breathing down his neck.

He took out his iPad and showed me the numbers, and indeed, they were bad. So bad the taco truck didn’t seem salvageable. After he showed me the spreadsheets with their excess of red, I understood that it would just be one bad debt leading to another bad debt, on and on until he was in a hole so deep he couldn’t get out of it.

H

e’d even taken out a third mortgage on the condo and spent his last five thousand bucks on a billboard that hovered ominously over 101 near the 92 interchange, a billboard in which El Taco Hombre stood arm in arm with his fictitious mother Guadalupe, a model of Samoan descent whom he’d hired through Craigslist. “Visit El Taco Hombre for Mama’s secret salsa!” the speech bubble declared.

“A billboard?” I asked, baffled. “Why on earth? I don’t know anyone who looks up from their cell phone long enough to read a billboard.”

“That’s it!” he shouted, pointing at me in a fury of excitement that verged on madness. “That’s why I need you, Evangelista! Just do this one thing for me,” he pleaded, “and nothing bad will happen to you.”

But this one thing is proving elusive. This one thing is not as easy as it would seem.

He sits on the floor in front of me, eyes tearing up. The tears are a good sign, I imagine. From self-pity comes compassion. Or from self-pity comes rage. One or the other—though I’m hoping for the former.

“You’re a coder, right?” I say. “I can find you something.”

“That’s not the point,” he says. “Of course I can get a job. I already had an offer.”

“You did?”

“Yes, Palantir. They’re good people, but my heart’s not in it. The only thing I want to do is run this taco truck. It’s been my dream since I was a young boy.”

I wiggle my butt to get more comfortable on the cold, hard floor. “I don’t see what any of this has to do with me.”

"Make el Taco Hombre go Viral"

“Work your voodoo,” he says. “Make El Taco Hombre go viral.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“You did it for that stupid sweatshirt,” he points out. “Surely you can do it for the best tacos in Silicon Valley.”

“An overnight sensation is never really an overnight sensation,” I argue. “We planned the hoodie campaign for six months. We tested the colors, we tested the taglines, we put 37 different models in front of focus groups to see who got the most clicks-through. Our data analysis led us, in the end, to use average models, shot from the shoulders up, sans makeup, with inexpensive haircuts and a discreet level of facial asymmetry. The point is, we used no small part of our seed money figuring out how to get the greatest number of people talking in the shortest amount of time.”

“Perfect,” Daniel says, seeming to have tuned out every word except the final phrase. “I have the shortest amount of time. You’re the one for the job. And the best part is, I’ve already done the hard work for you.”

He points to the gag, the handcuffs, the spectacle of me on the floor, confused and fearful. “This is our viral campaign. You’ve been kidnapped. I’ve been filming the whole thing.”

“I don’t understand.”

He stands up and pulls open a cupboard. Inside it, a Dropcam, its eye staring down at me. “We already have footage,” he says. “Kidnapped Chief Evangelist of one of the hottest startups in the valley, chained to the floor of the best taco truck in the valley.”

The steady red eye is unnerving. I’ve only ever used my Dropcam to spy on raccoons in my driveway. I don’t like being the one who’s spied upon. “You’ve lost me.”

“We’ll put it on YouTube,” he says excitedly, “we’ll put it on Instagram, we’ll put it on Facebook and everywhere else, and we’ll tell people they have 24 hours to find you, or you’ll be dead.”

“Periscope,” I say.

“What?”

“You should have been live-streaming on Periscope.”

“Okay,” he says, “that too. We’ll put it on Periscope.”

“Too late. Missed opportunity.” And then, it occurs to me to ask the more pressing question, the one I should have asked in the first place, the one I’ve dared not speak aloud, but now I have to, because he’s put it out there, he’s broached the subject, and now that it’s in the air it seems more real, more possible: “Are you planning to kill me?”

Daniel looks alarmed. “Of course not! How could you think that?”

I rattle the handcuffs.

“I needed to set the mood,” he says. “I had to get you in the proper frame of mind, in order to help you be authentic. I saw your interview on The Evangelists. I saw where you said authenticity is everything.”

“Then I’m not really kidnapped?”

“Of course not!”

“Then let me go.”

“Not until you take me viral.”

“Then I am kidnapped.”

He shrugs. “Kidnapped or no, will you help me?”

“Do I have a choice?”

I have brainstormed in cubicles and coffee shops, in hotel lobbies and lava baths. I have brainstormed alone in my apartment, and on a company-wide island retreat. I have brainstormed on the yacht of a teenaged YouTube sensation and on a road trip from El Paso to Vancouver with the scrum master, back before he was the scrum master, when he had time for such distractions. I have never brainstormed on the floor of a taco truck, handcuffed and hungry, with such a great deal at stake.

If I can't save the best taco truck, no one will trust me with their company

Because here is what occurs to me, with alarming clarity: even if El Taco Hombre would never kill me (and the more I think about it, the less I think he is capable of doing such a thing), this whole stunt could kill my career. If I can’t save the best taco truck in Silicon Valley even to save my own life, no one will trust me with their company, their product, their name. If I fail at this, I may as well move to Austin or Boston or Wilmington, assume a new identity, and get a temp job in marketing. I will be persona non grata. Because everybody knows that for an evangelist in the valley, you are only as good as your last product launch.

El Taco Hombre is pacing, his shirt drenched in sweat, hands shaking, when it finally comes to me. How could I have not seen it before?

“We don’t go viral,” I say.

He turns to me, as if waking from a deep sleep, groggy and unfocused. “What?”

“We go anti-viral.”

“Don’t mess with me,” he says angrily. “I may seem harmless, but you don’t want to piss me off.”

“I’m not messing with you. What’s another taco in a land of plenty? It’s nothing. It’s worse than nothing; it’s attainable. There’s authority, there’s social proof, and there’s scarcity, and the greatest of these is scarcity. We’ve been getting it all wrong. The key is to take the message to them, but then make them come to us. Only, we make sure they can’t find us.”

“I don’t follow.”

“There are no tacos,” I say. “El Taco Hombre is so scarce he’s nonexistent. El Taco Hombre makes what you can’t have. And because you can’t have it, you want it more.”

“How do we make that happen?”

“Start driving. But first, I’m going to need some tacos.”

After Daniel un-cuffs me and fires up the grill, after I gorge myself on two Cohete de Fuegos and clear my head with an orange soda, I get to work. It takes me ten minutes to buy a domain name and create the blog, El Taco Hombre On the Move, seven more minutes to download the drop cam video of my captivity, splice it together with a short introduction—“If you are watching this, please be advised it is not a hoax”—and post it on the blog, three minutes to share the link pretty much everywhere. Meanwhile, Daniel is driving.

“Where to?” he asks.

“Portland. Do you know the way?”

By the time I’ve posted our location under the overpass, we’re ten miles down the road on 280, heading north. There’s the video, yes, but beneath the video I’ve posted a story. It’s not the story of El Taco Hombre as he would have you believe, but the true story of Daniel. I write about his upbringing in Portland, his failed tryouts for the high school track team, his uneventful three and a half years plus two summer terms, minus one diploma, at Stanford. I reveal the truth about his black hair, his fictitious grandmother, the Mexican town he never lived in. The story of El Taco Hombre is the story of a man who loved tacos so much that he created a fake identity to facilitate a life in tacos. Toward the bottom of the story, I bury the question: Is it really a kidnapping at all?

It could fail. I know that. But it could also turn the whole thing inside out.

I’m thinking of the endless pursuit of the appearance of authenticity—the imported mosquitoes and imported tropical plants, the Pantone engineered Mediterranean Sweet Eggplant. I’m thinking of all the things we do in the valley to make our stories seem real, their origins legitimate. But what if authenticity matters not nearly so much as passion? Isn’t that the story of El Taco Hombre? A story of passion?

“How we doing?” Daniel says. He’s turned the music off, and it’s just the sound of the road beneath the wheels, the utensils clattering, the air condition humming.

I check the analytics, I scour the blogs, I scan the reddit threads, the retweets, the likes, the reblogs, the rapidly multiplying hearts of Periscope. “We’re through the roof,” I say. “You’re trending everywhere. James Franco wants a taco. He’s on the road, in pursuit. #FrancoNeedsATaco is the top hashtag of the hour.”

“That’s great!” Daniel says. “When do we park? When do I start selling the tacos?”

“We don’t,” I say. “We keep going. We don’t stop until we get to Portland.”

“And what then?”

“Then you open your doors and make some freaking tacos.”

El Taco Hombre looks confused for only a minute before the spark of excitement and anticipation appear in his eyes. I have convinced him of his own viability, and from the looks of my data analytics, I have convinced some ever-increasing corner of the web that his taco is the taco to eat. I am surprised, stunned really. I spent months of my life agonizing over the color of a hoodie (“the eggplant looks way too eggplant”), and yet here, under pressure, in such a short time, I have created something of value.

As the miles tick off, I read El Taco Hombre the highlights from the analytics. I even prepare a slide deck and broadcast it on his Google Glass, which makes his driving slightly wonky but not dangerously so. And then, when I see his motivation waning, when he begins to fret that this can’t possibly work, I tell him the story of the bison that used to freely roam the gentle hills of Silicon Valley, grazing. When he asks what happened to the bison, I tell a long, sobering yet ultimately triumphant story of how the bison herds migrated north to Eureka, to Oregon, to Washington, always enjoying greener pastures, always one step ahead of settlers and drought. I tell him about the small herd of bison that lives in Golden Gate Park to this day—surely he’s seen them, there behind the electric fences, bored and interbred, posing for toddlers and tourists while their kinfolk roam far and wide, feasting on the emerald pastures of the more precipitous states.

“Do you want to be like the Golden Gate bison?” I ask. “Stagnant? Cooped up in a pen too small for your dreams? Nothing but a prop for brochures of a forgotten time?”

El Taco Hombre thinks about it for a minute. “No!” he says defiantly. And I can almost hear him whisper, “Onward.”

Outside Redding, I notice the spike is waning, so I plant a fictitious clue on a fictitious Instagram account by a guy named Don Carroll, the globe-trotting employee of a commercial real estate firm in Portland, a persona who has existed for more than a year, sprinkling his love for Hey Hemp Hoodies! among artfully filtered photos of his travels from Argentina to Athens, the Orkney Islands to the Oregon Coast. Truth be told, I had grown weary of Don Carroll, his short-sleeved oxfords with the sleeves rolled up to show off his hieroglyphic tattoos, his Spotify list, his TBR pile overstuffed with Lars Gustafsson and Joan Didion. The TBR pile I created for him was always greater than the man himself, for the Don Carroll of my imagination, more style than substance, was too busy staging homes and scouting out the best deals in organic fashion online to truly immerse himself in the memoirs of Patti Smith, to understand the beautifully tortured nuances of Graham Greene. But now, I am grateful for Don Carroll, who, at last, has a higher purpose to serve. He instagrams a dummied up contract showing that El Taco Hombre has signed a lease on a parking spot near downtown Portland. I make the contract look blurry and authentic, obscuring all but the address of El Taco Hombre’s new corner. I open a new tab and connect to the webcam from the bowling alley across the street from the address where El Taco Hombre is supposedly parked. I watch. A car pulls up and four twenty-somethings get out. Then another car. And then another. They look around, excited at first, then concerned. They scatter in several directions, searching for the truck. I see them on their phones, searching and texting and making calls, holding the phones up to the sky, as if some magical GPS will show them the way. I feel for them, I do. These young people in search of the elusive taco, the taco to end all tacos.

Between Medford and Eugene, I take a quick break to check out some real estate porn. Houses in Portland are still so reasonable, despite the recent uptick. I could have two bedrooms and two and one half baths. I always wanted a half bath—so decadent yet so useful. I pull up the calculator on my phone. If I cashed out all of my stock, I could live work-free, comfortably, for nearly 9.765 years. And if I tended the lunch register for El Taco Hombre, I might even stretch that to 10.98 years.

Outside Eugene, I fall asleep. I dream of bison, hundreds of bison, roaming free in an endless field, serene. The dream is so vivid and so real that when I wake I know with certainty that there is a land—not Portland, not Seattle—but a land just north of here, just north of everywhere, where that dream exists and the bison really do roam free. They move northward, this great and lumbering herd, one peaceful step at a time, always ahead of the din, always ahead of the coming progress.

We pull into Portland just past midnight. We find a parking spot—not the place we said we’d be, but another corner half a mile away. We wait for the first customers. When they arrive—a young couple, pale and hopeful, ecstatic to have found us—Daniel makes two tacos—no more—while they take out their phones, furiously filming. I hand the tacos out the window, and we drive away, just as three more cars pull up, filled with hopeful customers. Every time we park, it is like this—we serve the first customer, and only the first. Daniel doubles his prices, then triples them, then quadruples them, waiting to discover the price at which his tacos will no longer be in demand. The price point seems impossible to reach. The San Francisco Chronicle’s infamously mean-spirited food critic surprises himself by writing a review titled, “Why I Would Pay 50 Dollars for This Taco Every Day of My Life.” Business is booming. A week passes, and another. And another. The prices are so high, the overhead so low, Daniel quickly raises enough money for the truck payment and pays off his suppliers by the end of the month.

I have outdone myself.

James Franco never finds us, but it doesn’t matter, because he has already begun filming the documentary, Searching for El Taco Hombre—which is, like all great documentaries, part fiction, part truth, yet electrifying in its honesty. The actors, in love with the idea of the great James Franco, in love with the idea of the unattainable taco, work at scale. Rumor has it that Rodriguez is providing the soundtrack.

Authority, Social Proof, Scarcity. The greatest of these is scarcity.

My boss at Hey Hemp Hoodie! is furious, yet impressed. When, he wants to know, will I be back? Authority, social proof, scarcity, I tell myself. And the greatest of these is scarcity. I tell him I don’t know. I tell him I can’t make any promises. The eggplant hoodie, thanks to Don Carroll, whose early adaptation of El Taco Hombre has made him an internet sensation, has far exceeded expectations.

Six weeks later, and I apologize for saying this—really, seriously, what is wrong with me?—I grow bored of Portland. I grow bored of the small but lively downtown, the amazing bookstores, the impressive array of restaurants serving locally sourced everything. Fifty-four days into my hiatus—for what can Portland be, really, but a beautiful hiatus?—I receive a long stream of texts from the scrum master, each more passionate than the one before. He is sorry for neglecting me, he says. He misses me greatly. He wants me back. He welcomes the distraction. Have I heard that one of the mosquitoes gave him malaria? He’s been on his back, exiled to our apartment, suffering from fevered nightmares. But the illness, which he refers to as The Great Disruption, turned out to be a gift, because in his sweaty dreams he had a vision of us, “you and me together, babe, starting a company”—something amazing and unheard of, an idea to end all ideas. An idea to break through the noise, to crack the whole thing wide open.

“What did you do yesterday?” he says, when I get him on the phone. “What will you do tomorrow?”

About the Author

Michelle Richmond is the author of four novels set in San Francisco, including "Golden State" and The New York Times bestseller "The Year of Fog." Her most recent story collection is "Hum," winner of the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. Her new novel is forthcoming from Bantam. She lives in a small town on the Peninsula, where she can often be found eating tacos. She is the founder and publisher of Fiction Attic Press. Visit her online at michellerichmond.com.

Credits

Illustrations

Roman Muradov

Animation

Justin Herman

Design

Mark Hobbs
Marc Mendell

Development

Mark Hobbs
Ramin Hedayatpour

Production

Ray Pawulich
Susan Lundgren
Jeremy Toeman