MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- It started, as many things do on the internet, as a joke.
It ended with dripping candle wax and a box of tacos tossed out of the bed of a pickup truck, yards away from the charred and partially collapsed remains of Zelda Road's former 24-hour Taco Bell.
The Montgomery fast food restaurant caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 17. No one was injured, and the cause of the blaze has been ruled undetermined at this time.
But the closure of Taco Bell — a bastion of cheap, delicious and nearly always available food for young people and those looking to save a few dollars — hit close to home for many current and former Montgomery residents.
A Facebook proposal for a candlelight vigil last week went viral, and more than one hundred people showed up Sunday night to honor their fallen fast food favorite.
"It just gave people something to talk about other than all the negativity that’s going on right now," organizer Katie James said of the tongue-in-cheek event.
The crowd, many in their teens and early 20s, brought in Taco Bell products and candles, milling about the parking lot of the adjacent Arby's after event organizers found the Taco Bell lot was closed off.
Local comedian Ashley Nicole Portis performed a reprise of a Taco Bell parody video she released last year. A recent graduate of Alabama State University, Portis said the Zelda Road restaurant was a key to surviving theater runs.
"I've had a lot of memories created at Taco Bell," she said. "I was a theater major and we had long, long rehearsal nights. It was extremely taxing, and you don't always have time to eat. You miss the cafeteria, it closes early. In Montgomery, everything else closes early."
After Portis' performance and a toss of a Taco Bell Party Pack into the crowd, a young guy with a bucket circled the parking lot, picking up bits of wax and paper the crowd had dropped.
The vigil was lighthearted for all involved, but Portis said Taco Bell was a favorite of hers for the same reasons many young people, just old enough to drive their parents' car to a quick dinner or confined to kitchen-less dorms, are often drawn to fast food joints.
"Waffle House is open, but if you really want to get full, you've got to have 10 dollars. Sometimes you don't have that," Portis said. "Sometimes they're out of waffles. Taco Bell, they're never out of tortillas."
As the crowd began to break apart Sunday night, some heading into the Arby's for a late dinner. At midnight, the restaurant will close, as will a nearby McDonalds. With the loss of the Zelda Road Taco Bell, Montgomery's late night options have dwindled to a precious few.
"When my wife (then girlfriend) lived in Auburn and I lived in Birmingham, you were my light in the darkness on the road at 2 a.m. when all the other restaurants were closed," Shaw Gibbons wrote of the restaurant on Facebook last week. "When McDonalds failed me, you lifted me up. When Sonic was closed, you filled my cup. When Arby's went dark, you made me smile. Your quesadillas sustained me mile after mile."
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