Running for the border: A brief history of Taco Bells in Livingston County
By now, you’ve no doubt heard the joyous news: Howell’s new Taco Bell is open for business! It’s true! Rejoice! This is the biggest thing to hit Howell since Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield moved to town, and even Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield can’t hold a candle to a Taco Supreme.
The new Taco Bell is located on South Michigan Avenue, right next to the Howell Soft Cloth Car Wash. It started serving up the tacos and burritos in the last week or so, and I haven’t stopped smiling since.
Not to brag or anything, but I consider myself to be Livingston County’s Official Taco Bell Ambassador. I realize there’s not a lot of competition for that title – I’m probably the only person who even WANTS to be Livingston County’s Official Taco Bell Ambassador – but it is what it is. In all modesty, I have to say that nobody in Livingston County knows more or cares more about Taco Bell than I do. In fact, you could say that I’ve made it my life’s work to bring Taco Bells to every corner of Livingston County.
Counting the new one in Howell, we now have six Taco Bells in Livingston County. (Or “Tacos Bell,” whichever is grammatically correct.) There’s the new one in Howell, the original one in Howell (which is actually in Genoa Township), as well as ones in Brighton, Fowlerville, Hartland and Pinckney.
My love affair with the Bell began back in 1975, when I was a freshman at Ypsilanti High School. The first Taco Bell in Ypsilanti opened that year on Washtenaw Avenue, about a half-mile from my high school, and it was love at first bite. I loved the food, I loved the fact they included a helpful pronunciation guide on the menu (“Buh-REE-toh”) and I especially loved the fact that I could get an entire meal for just $1.10. So I made the decision that I was going to eat at Taco Bell every day for lunch.
There were several problems with my plan, however. First and foremost, it was illegal for me to eat lunch at Taco Bell every day, according to the draconian laws of Ypsilanti High School at the time. Freshmen and sophomores were forbidden from leaving the campus during lunch back then (since we couldn’t drive), so if I wanted to eat lunch at Taco Bell every day, I would have to be willing to break the law.
Which I was. I’m all for respecting authority, but hey, this was Taco Bell.
So every day when the lunch bell would ring at 11:45 a.m., I’d bust out the doors and start my run for the border. Most days, I was joined by two fellow freshmen scofflaws, Ken and Brett. We found a side door with no security, so that’s where we’d make our escape every day. Ken and Brett were just as willing as I was to risk imprisonment for a few tacos.
Now, the second big problem was that Taco Bell was a full half-mile away from Ypsilanti High School, and our lunch break was only 20 minutes long. So this meant that the three of us – Ken, Brett and I – would have to sprint the half-mile to Taco Bell, wolf down our food in about three minutes, and then sprint back to the high school. Which we did. Every single day.
Fast-forward to 1983. I was now 22 years old, and had just taken a job as the sports editor of the Livingston County Press in Howell. I loved Livingston County, but what I didn’t love is that Livingston County didn’t have a Taco Bell. So if I wanted to eat the World’s Greatest Food, it was no longer just a half-mile sprint away. I had to drive all the way back to Washtenaw County. That stunk.
The nightmare came to an end in 1984, though, when Livingston County’s first Taco Bell opened in Brighton. My office was in Howell, but I was willing to make the drive to Brighton every day for lunch. Instead of having to make a half-mile sprint every day to Taco Bell, like I did in high school, I had to make a 15-minute drive. So it was a better deal for me.
Along about this time, I wrote my first Taco Bell column for the newspaper. For about 26 years, I wrote a column in the Brighton Argus and Livingston County Press (which later became the Livingston Daily Press & Argus), and those of you who were my faithful readers will recall that roughly 98 percent of those columns included some reference to Taco Bell.
I strayed from my comfort zone once when I wrote a column about a guy who said the word “fart” at a Hamburg Township Board meeting, but aside from that, pretty much every column I ever wrote was about Taco Bell.
And it all started with my first Taco Bell column in 1984. I wrote a piece in which I asked the question, “Which town is better: Brighton or Howell?” After examining the various strong points and weaknesses of each community, I offered my conclusion: “Brighton is clearly the better town, because Brighton has a Taco Bell.”
It was hard to argue with my reasoning. This was before the time of e-mail, but I did receive numerous calls and letters, virtually all of which said one of two things:
1. I totally agree with you; or
2. How in the hell did you get this job?
In any case, emboldened by the response I received from my first Taco Bell column, I decided to make it a crusade to get a Taco Bell for Howell, too. After all, my office was still in Howell, and I was starting to get frustrated that I had to make the drive to Brighton every day. So I wrote columns, I wrote editorials, I even went so far as to call the Taco Bell people and ask them when they were going to get off their Taco Bell duffs and open up a restaurant in Howell.
And you know what? It worked! It took about six years of begging and pleading, but in 1990, the Taco Bell people FINALLY decided to open a restaurant in Howell. It was technically in Genoa Township (out by the new Walmart which had just sprung up near Latson Road), but it was close enough to be called the Howell Taco Bell.
I was finally going to have a Taco Bell in the same town where I worked! Oh, joy! Rapture!
Everywhere I went that year, people were slapping me on the back and shaking my hand and thanking me for leading the crusade to get a Taco Bell for Howell. I was the king of the county.
Fueled by my new-found power, I decided to bring more Taco Bells to Livingston County! More Taco Bells! Or Tacos Bell, whichever is grammatically correct!
In the mid-1990s, I had gotten married and moved to Fowlerville, and bingo! Fowlerville got a Taco Bell. Soon after, another Taco Bell opened in Hartland. It was located inside a gas station, but it was a Taco Bell nonetheless. In the space of just 10 years or so, we had gone from zero Taco Bells in Livingston County to FOUR Taco Bells! AND I WANTED MORE!
In 2001, I moved to Gregory and began spending a lot of time in Pinckney, so naturally, I started crusading for a Taco Bell in Pinckney. This was a hard sell. Unlike the other Livingston County communities, Pinckney isn’t located along a highway (I-96 or U.S. 23), and the fast-food people usually like to put their restaurants along highways. That’s why it took so long to even get a McDonald’s in Pinckney.
That was the explanation I got, but I didn’t accept it. I promised the Taco Bell people that if they opened a restaurant in Pinckney, it would be successful. They would make enough money from me alone to justify putting a Taco Bell there.
Well, in 2011, they finally relented. Pinckney got its Taco Bell, and just as I predicted, it’s been a success.
That was Livingston County’s fifth Taco Bell, and now, in 2015, we’ve just gotten our sixth. And what’s truly remarkable about the new Howell Taco Bell is that I didn’t even have to ask for it! They obviously just tracked my traffic patterns, noticed that I drive through that area frequently, and decided to put a restaurant there.
As Livingston County’s Official Taco Bell Ambassador, I couldn’t be more happy and proud. When I moved here 32 years ago, we had no Taco Bells. Now we have six. We could use a few more (we need another one in Brighton on Lee Road, one in Whitmore Lake at the M-36 exit on U.S. 23, and one in Gregory), so my life’s work is certainly not complete. I celebrate this milestone and move on to the next.
I truly can’t rest until everyone in Livingston County is no more than 10 minutes away from one of our Taco Bells. Or Tacos Bell, whichever is grammatically correct.