I once purchased a giant beer from a vending machine in a Japanese national park, and I thought, “Why don’t we have this in the United States? How come when I visit a state park I have to buy my tall boys from a bait shop like a sucker? Clearly we’ve fallen behind the Japanese in the crucial technology of automated libation convenience.” I worried for my nation. If we could put a man on the moon, how come we couldn’t put a Sam Adams vending machine in Yellowstone Park?
Today, friends, I am happy to report that the United States is closing the vending machine gap.
My friend Kathy—who is aware of my love of food stunts—alerted me to the existence of the Burrito Box, which is a box that sells burritos. We have one in Los Angeles, not far from where I live, at the WeHo Super Mart at the Mobil station at 8380 Santa Monica Blvd. (“WeHo,” for those of you who live outside of Los Angeles, is short for We are Hos.)
I took a drive out and investigated the burrito vending machine. I arrived around 5 PM in order to beat the dinner rush. Surely there will be a line, I thought. Anytime a nation makes a leap in burrito technology, it is cause to celebrate—and to eat burritos.
I walked into the WeHo Super Mart, trying to act all cool, like I wasn’t there just to see the Burrito Box. Oh, hey, Funyuns. They still make Funyuns? Whoa! What’s this!?! A Burrito Box? What is that doing here, in the same gas station convenience store where I also am?
There was no line, but as soon as I approached the machine, a gentleman of Russian decent asked me if I knew what the Burrito Box was. He had clearly heard about it, but he wasn’t ready to tangle with it just yet. He’d probably never been to Japan. “It’s a machine that sells burritos,” I told him. “It’s the future.”
He took a photo with his cell phone.
The Burrito Box touch screen offered several options including roasted potato with egg and cheese, uncured bacon with egg and cheese, chorizo sausage with egg and cheese, free-range chicken with beans and rice and shredded beef and cheese. I chose the free-range chicken because I didn’t want to eat meat from a box that had spent its life in a box. I’m pretty sure if I checked with Jamie Oliver he would have said, “Too many boxes.”
Burritos are $3, plus tax and additional toppings. I ordered sides of guacamole (75 cents) and Tabasco (65 cents). I paid $4.80 total with a credit card, and then I waited. While I waited a music video played. I cannot tell you whose video it was because all I could think was, “Is the machine making my burrito right now? Or is there a person in there folding my burrito and this is all a trick like you might see on truTV? Why is this taking so long if the burrito is pre-made? Are they (they who? I don’t know—they) putting the guacamole and Tabasco on my burrito? Make with the burrito already, burrito technology.”
It took about a minute, which was long enough for me to realize that not only is this company selling burritos, it plans to sell music companies the right to make me watch music videos while I wait for my burrito. Unless the song is called “Burritos are Great” by the Burrito Brothers, I don’t think anyone is going to pay too much attention to the music.
Finally I heard a clunk, and I reached into the machine, and I retrieved a warm burrito (in a sleeve), a package of guac and a tiny bottle of hot sauce.
I raced home and pulled the burrito, still warm, from its sleeve.
I set the table for dinner.
Yes, I drink wine with dinner from a monogrammed wine glass. I might eat burritos from a vending machine, but I’m not a savage.
The guacamole was fine. It tasted how you would expect packaged guacamole to taste. Like something that astronauts would be pumped to have with them in space. I only bought the Tabasco because I wanted the complete Burrito Box experience. If they had Cholula or Tapatio, I would have preferred that. And so would all of Los Angeles. I am looking in your direction, company that makes the Burrito Box.
The quality of the burrito? To its credit it did not give offense, which is the highest compliment one can pay to warm food that emerges from a vending machine at a gas station. It was similar to that which you would expect from the frozen food section of your local grocery store.
I enjoyed the novelty and appreciated the convenience.
Would I buy another vending machine burrito?
Probably if there was a beer vending machine involved.
Joe Donatelli is the author of Full Griswold: Stories from a Honeymoon in Italy. In 2013 he covered The One Thing No One Tells You About Living in Los Angeles.
UPDATE: A commenter lamented that I did not photograph the inside of the burrito. I wish I had, too. If you’re curious, Machinima made this video documenting the entire glorious burrito vending machine experience.