My O.C.: Big Cheez-It Relief

News about crazy food items is a welcome change given recent events.
Illustration by Pete Ryan

It was touted as “taco ingredients on the biggest Cheez-It cracker known to humankind.”
Introducing: The Big Cheez-It Tostada.

Over the summer, Taco Bell and Cheez-It got together to dream up a new twist on an old favorite. Instead of a traditional bowl-shaped tortilla to hold the meat and cheese combo, they produced a giant Cheez-It that was 16 times its normal size.

Just one catch: The novel tostada was available for two weeks only and in just one West Coast location. Hello, Irvine! (Taco Bell headquarters, after all.)

Game on, I thought, and immediately researched the address—2222 Barranca Parkway. I told my husband, Michael, where we were going for lunch that afternoon. Fart jokes be damned; I didn’t care, because for the first time in forever, the news out of Orange County wasn’t a shock to my system.

No more mention of flyers found scattered around local beach towns promoting a KKK rally.

No reports of mass shootings at local churches. 

No furtive word about a (now-former) Chapman University professor carrying a concealed memo on how to overturn the 2020 election.

In other words, a welcome break from all the recent scary stories hitting too close to home.

_______________

I arrived in Orange County more than 30 years ago on a Grad Night trip to Disneyland. Having grown up in Las Vegas, I thought we’d landed in paradise. That same weekend, our high school group stayed near the water, and I experienced my first hot kiss on the cool sands of Huntington Beach.

Several years later, I moved into a condo within walking distance of Angels Stadium, as it was called then. I was in the stands when rookie Wally Joyner hit a home run in his first at-bat, the beginning of Wally World. 

Since then, I’ve lived in three O.C. cities, earned two degrees from Cal State Fullerton, ended one marriage, and started another that has lasted more than 23 years. 

When Michael and I were dating, we “got hitched” at Knott’s Berry Farm. During the brief Wild West ceremony, I vowed to darn Michael’s socks and he promised to hand over his weekly paycheck. I still have the souvenir nail ring nestled in my jewelry box.

_______________

“We should leave early to avoid the rush,” Michael suggested about the giant tostada lunch excursion.

Good idea. News of an enormous orange cracker descending on O.C. had received national exposure, including the late-night circuit, and I didn’t want the dish to sell out before we got there. 

Which was exactly what I thought had happened when we arrived to a mostly empty parking lot. Why, oh, why had I thought I could catch a reality break when I couldn’t even go to the grocery store these days without seeing signs of strife in our fair county? Vaccine protests in front of medical clinics. Disapproving looks from strangers when I opted to wear a mask indoors. Political pop-up stands sporting enough f-bombs on their signage to make a Caltrans crew blush. Same goes for the T-shirts on display (avert your eyes, kids), advertised to be “one size fits all” in an ironic claim of inclusiveness.

“Come on in,” Michael said, holding the door open for me. We quickstepped it over to the self-service screens. Being a tech guy, he found the prize tostada first, under Specialty Menu Items. Not sold out after all—yay!

“Everything on it?” he asked, tapping in our orders.

“Absolutely—except jalapenos, of course. And a small Diet Coke.”

Ten minutes later, we collected our calorie fest at the counter. The verdict? Guiltily delicious as charged—although not nearly as mammoth as all the hype would have us believe, measuring only slightly larger than the size of my palm. 

Still, mission accomplished. I climbed back into the truck, happily anticipating a nap. Then I saw the spinning-sign guy. He was holding one of those cardboard signs, but what grabbed my attention was its design to look like a giant handgun. In fact, the word GUNS was printed in large block letters across the barrel. He strategically pointed it this way and that, catching people’s attention at the busy intersection.

I stared in disbelief. “Is that allowed?”

“It’s legal,” Michael said. “Although I don’t agree with it.” 

“But the Laguna Woods shooting happened just a few weeks ago,” I pointed out. “The church isn’t even that far away.”

I searched the area while the light was still red and spotted the gun shop in a nearby strip mall. Its glass front and bright interior lights made it easy to see what looked like a long line of rifles propped against two walls. 

I suddenly felt sick, and it had nothing to do with my poor food choices.

I got out of the truck and headed over to confront the corner guy, insisting he take his stupid gun-shaped sign and leave right this instant!

At least, that’s what I wish I’d done. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, I’m an avid pacifist, more prone to smoothing things over than stirring things up. So I stewed about it instead, trying through several sleepless nights to solve all the county’s problems from my little corner of it. 

But here’s the thing about obsession: It brings focus. In the end, I wrote my own bold memo and bulleted list of things I can do to make a difference:

  • Vote
  • Volunteer
  • Make a voodoo doll of Rudy Giuliani (kidding … kind of)
  • Phone a representative  
  • Floss more

Because if the Big Cheez-It Tostada teaches us nothing else, it’s that our very differences are the magic beans to making something new and unique—something that generates good news instead of bad.

Working together, we can make Orange County a groovy place to live. A one-size-fits-all paradise where everyone is welcome and the sunsets are free.

After all, someone waiting for their first hot kiss on the cool O.C. sand is counting on us.