Wednesday, September 28, 2011

R.I.P. Arch West: Inventor of Doritos

The last bag of Doritos I ate before the death of Arch West were the best I’ve ever tasted. We were up in the mountains, me and my fake girlfriend. Smoggy and hot in the city but up in the Sierras it was cool, clear day, and we stopped at the Native American Cultural Center to check out some artifacts—longbows and shit made from pelts. It was a welcome relief from a tough week, and the two stoned Mexican guys running the federally funded shack and posing as Native Americans had a cooler of soda and basket of various chips for sale. We chose original flavor Doritos and a Coke. The classic American snack.

Something about the mountain air, the rigors of the wilderness; something about the long grueling week-- the experience of eating those fucking Doritos was magnified. I could taste freshly harvested corn pulled from a heartland field in the dawn. Chilis hand dried in an adobe marketplace by a Toltec woman with hard, withered fingers. Salt delicately culled from the nurturing bosom of the sea. These Doritos tasted like life, seriously.

It brought to mind how about every three months for the past several years I've thought, apropos of nothing: who is the guy who invented Doritos? This man will get no Nobel Prize, but what he gave the world brought more joy than virtually anybody. In retrospect, I might have known that the universe was giving me a chance to truly taste the man's masterpiece before he passed to the great beyond.

Arch West, the inventor of Doritos, died last Tuesday at the age of 97. West was a marketing exec for Frito Corp. (soon to become Frito–Lay after a merger), and on a trip to California, sampled some tortilla chips for the first time from a snack stand by the beach. This was in the sixties. Mind you, tortilla chips themselves hadn’t been invented until 1944, so, the idea hadn’t really spread around, and West, according to lore, instantly knew he was onto something. He took his idea of a spicy version of the crisp fried corn chips to the higher ups at Frito Corp, and they laughed at him. They laughed.

So West invested some of his own money into developing the chip, presumably bested further hurdles in an inspiring manner, and brought Doritos to the world. Fucking Doritos. He was a marketing guy, too—it wasn’t even his job to sit around a test kitchen frying big batches of corn batter ad infinitum until some catchy new snack was created by accident. He was “outside the box,” going above and beyond the call of duty; when he found something genius, he believed in himself and fucking saw it through.

And we got Doritos. Doritos! Remember, children of the eighties—for our whole lives there was one Dorito, now known as Zesty Nacho Cheese or “Nacho Cheesier” or some whored-up shit but back then known simply as “Doritos.” And then in like 1985 Cool Ranch came out and it was fucking Martin Luther nailing his proclamations to the church door. A shattering of worlds. Because as delicious as the Ur-Doritos had been, these Cool Ranch Doritos were, to a child’s palette, even more delicious. Now the Doritos family has splintered into a thousand different flavors; Doritos is the mockingbird of fried corn snacks, mimicking the flavors of every fatty food, cross-branding with Pizza Hut, dolled up as burgers, burritos, guacamole, hot sauce. Most of them aren’t worth shit. Arch West tasted every flavor of Doritos before he died—weeks before his death, in decrepitude at ninety seven years of age, he was given a Rip Roarin’ Cheezeburger flavor or something to try and he spat them out. I like to think that he shed a tear at how his brainchild had been profaned. I like to think he impaled the kneeling Frito-Lay messenger with a spear, sent his head back to corporate as a warning.

But the bigger point here is-- Arch West invented fucking Doritos, and this is a greater contribution to our lives than James Joyce. Bigger than like, Luciano Pavarotti-- if Pavarotti hadn’t sung those songs some other fat guy would’ve. Arch West made a bigger contribution to the life of the world than all but maybe five U.S. presidents. Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson-- and him, more for his accomplishments outside of office than in-- Franklin Roosevelt, and maybe Truman ‘cuz he dropped the bomb. That’s it. Fucking Warren G. Harding didn’t do shit compared to the invention of Doritos. Most presidents are simply place holders, kept in check by congress by design and vainly making noise about making big changes when in fact their job is to just check the country’s oil once in a while and then hand on the keys to the next caretaker. John F. Kennedy would have done better to stop at a snack stand on his many travels to the beach and identify a fried bread product that had not yet caught on with most of the country, add some salt, color, and distinctive spice, and keep the courage of his convictions against his chip overlords until his creation had spread joy and delight to BILLIONS of people. Instead he partially instigated, then subdued, the Cuban Missile Crisis. A wash.

Anyway. Arch West. Goodnight, crunchy prince.

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