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Proposed Rally to Save Chicago Taco Bell Spirals Out of Control

The event page started as a joke while its 23-year-old founder was waiting for an egg sandwich to heat up; then, things took a dark turn.

B. David Zarley

B. David Zarley

Photo via Flickr user Michael Romero

Technically, the Save The Wrigleyville Taco Bell rally scheduled for Saturday—as reported by Chicagoist , the Chicago Tribune's imprint RedEye, DNAInfo, and Sports Illustrated, among otherswas not canceled, because it never really existed, insomuch that it was never meant to take place.

"When I initially created the event, I did so with the sole intent of sharing it with three or four of my friends with whom I frequented the Taco Bell, and that's it," CJ Black, the 23-year-old founder of the event on Facebook, told MUNCHIES via phone on Monday. "I thought that I was going to get a laugh out of a friend or two, and then it'd just fade into obscurity. I had no intention of this going beyond anything more than that."

And yet the "rally," which Black created while waiting, he says, for a convenience store egg sandwich to finish cooking, went well beyond that. First, it became a tongue-in-cheek stand against the rapid renovation of Wrigleyville, the area immediately surrounding Wrigley Field in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood on the city's North Side, a development that resonates differently—and with varying levels of despair, sadness, and excitement—across generations of Cubs fans and residents, who live mere blocks away. Then—perhaps because in the shadow of Charlottesville, an obviously quixotic rally could be read a little too much and a little too easily like a cruel joke, "All Lives Matter" made animate—the rally and its Facebook page became the target for vitriol.

"It wasn't planned to make fun of anybody or anything, because it wasn't planned at all," Black says. He says he understands the anger, although it does not align with what the intent of the page was. "I think that they [those upset] take it a little bit more seriously than it was ever meant to be taken. It really wasn't ever intended or pointed at making fun of anybody in any way." This was not Black's first brush with internet infamy; he and a partner created CheckAshleyMadison.com, a site which allowed the adultery-focused dating site's data-hacking scandal to be more easily searched.

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By the time I first reached out to Black on August 22—the rally was scheduled for August 26— the backlash had begun. While the event was organized before Unite the Right, it had the misfortune of taking place after, which may have contributed to the anger. One of the first posts on the event page when I had looked at it was a Lakeview resident castigating the page's supporters for rallying around such a trivial cause as real problems rage all around us, and Black had penned an explanation in response to the criticisms; unfortunately, both of these were lost when the page was removed, and the cached version does not include them.

The Cubs hat on top of the Taco Bell location's sign is probably its most unique feature. Photo via Flickr user Spencer Tweedy

"There is no thought behind this. It simply was put together for the purpose of joking with your friends," Black says. "And after it took off a little bit, I did take some interviews. I talked to some reporters, and I made it clear, at least I feel, that this was a joke." He points to his euphoric Tribune quotes, wherein he calls the Taco Bell "an oasis," as an example. Still, reading the media coverage ahead of the event offers a muddled picture, even with the benefit of hindsight. That Black is being hyperbolic and that the rally is jocular in tone is obvious; that it was never meant to take place, much less so. Further blurring the line between satire and a humorous, but real, rally, are the issues underlying the Taco Bell's demise.

On August 2, Crain's first reported that the developers who bought the Taco Bell lot, which is practically kitty-corner to the world famous red marquee, planned on throwing up a three-story mixed commercial space on the property. Such seemingly innocuous business news was more akin to Chicagoans to the final thrust of a matador, however; the areas immediately surrounding Wrigley Field, which is embedded deep in Lakeview, has been rendered unrecognizable in a few short years. I lived in Lakeview when I first moved to Chicago in the winter of 2012, and the environs directly outside the stadium—once a bustling ecosystem of hawkers selling peanuts, shirts, and water "cheaper on the outside"; scalpers wandering about; and the lovably grimy McDonalds—have been replaced by towering behemoths.

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The Taco Bell, unchanged and ironically resplendent in its corporate colors and with a Cubs cap hanging from its sign, was the last bastion of "old" Wrigley (which, of course, was vastly different still from the working-class denizens and prostitutes which marked the area in the 1970s and 80s). These issues are powerful enough that a rally was certainly not out of the question.

As the event got out of hand, Black debated the best way to tamp it down. He hesitated on removing the page immediately, as it served as his best way to communicate with the thousands who had supported it. He eventually settled on canceling the rally and closing down the page close to the scheduled time—Chicagoist reported the cancellation a little after 5 PM Friday evening—as the best way to take advantage of his one platform and keep people from showing up.

Black's main concern was having people show up and disrupting Taco Bell's business; he drove by a bit after the event's listed starting time to make sure that nobody had arrived, and when I stopped by roughly an hour later, around 2:30 PM, the lot was barren.

"The last thing I want is for my joke to go on and cause somebody else to have a bad day," he says. "[The workers at Taco Bell] didn't ask for this."