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Riding in cars with boys

I saw a newspaper article not long ago where actor Hugh Grant was leaving a restaurant and was being hounded by reporters, so he threw his doggy-container of baked beans at them.

I remember thinking, “Why is a man who is worth millions of dollars bringing home leftover baked beans?”

He could surely afford to hire a cook to prepare savory meals for him. I realized then that no matter how rich people are, they still yearn for the foods they grew up on.

And while I try to avoid eating at fast-food places these days, whenever I do find my car pulling itself into a drive-thru establishment, it’s almost always a Taco Bell, and my order is always the same: Two tacos and a Diet Coke. Taking that first bite, the taste of the salty, seasoned ground beef, the hard crunchy taco shell, and tang of the sharp cheddar cheese instantly transports me back to my teenage years.

The first time my best friend Melanie and I were invited by two cute brothers from my neighborhood to join them for a ride in their car, it was the summer of 1969, and we were 16 years old. I still remember the thrill of being in a car not being driven by one of my parents, flying down the road with the windows down, the hot wind blowing our long, straight hair around and the music from the eight-track tape blaring: “There’s a bad moon on the rise!” No air conditioning, of course, and no seat belts, and one taco and one (regular) Coke probably cost us each about 50 cents, but it was the best lunch ever!

I am sure that most people have some meal from their childhood that instantly takes them back home. When no one is looking, my dad will turn away from traditional dessert and instead break up pieces of white bread into a glass of milk: the dessert of his childhood. I’ve caught my parents dining on fried potatoes with cut-up wienies in them, not because they can’t afford better meals, but because it’s a meal they enjoyed when they were younger and poorer. Comfort food, they call it these days.

My sisters and I still love munching on penny candy, although a one-pound bag these days costs about $23. I think we enjoy the foods of our youth not so much because they really taste better, but because we went longer between meals and were a lot hungrier come supper time.

So, is my addiction to this particular fast food healthy? No. Should I be eating it? No. Would I be embarrassed if my family doctor caught me standing there in line? For sure. But nothing tastes better to me than that first bite of a taco. It’s the taste of youth. It’s the taste of freedom. It’s the taste of riding in cars with boys.

Darlene Ensor lives in Medford.