You’d think I’d have been delighted to be driving around in a vehicle that smelled like fresh, homemade oatmeal or warm snickerdoodle cookies. Normally, yes.
But a couple of weeks ago, not so much, because those lovely aromas were from a sticky, soggy mess of rolled oats, crunched cookies and spiced brown sugar — all over the van’s seats and carpet. Yuck!
It all had to do with how Husband Richard and I travel.
Often, after a long day of packing, driving and unloading, the last thing we want to do is pick a restaurant for dinner — and then go there. It can be just too much to think about selecting it, getting back in the car and driving again, tracking down a place to park and dealing with menus, servers and other diners. Especially when we don’t know the big-city neighborhood.
Never miss a local story.
So, we often take with us some ready-to-heat staples we can do up in a hotel microwave — easy, healthy meals we can assemble fast while lazing around in our ’jammies.
It’s a real luxury, actually. We don’t have to go out. The ease with which we can have our dinner or breakfast allows us to truly enjoy the special meals we eat out later.
But there’s a downside.
At the end of a trip, when we face repacking at the hotel, we absolutely know those few, stripped-down basics we assembled at home will have expanded as if inflated with a hairdryer.
The Twiggy of overnight cases becomes the Michelin Man steamer trunk of suitcases. A small box of food becomes a crate, a basket and three bags.
Honest, I didn’t even go to a grocery store! And there was lots of spare room in the van when we arrived.
But despite my very best intentions and cross-my-heart promises, our vehicle’s always overstuffed for return trips, and not just because of that quick trip to the drug store, our stops at a couple of cute little boutiques or even the pair of shoes we had to buy because someone (ahem!) took an unscheduled swim in suede sneakers.
Back home, we drag all that stuff inside. We sort by room, dump the laundry by the washer, hang up clothes we took but didn’t wear and finally locate the iPhone charger (how did it get in my sock?).
However, depending on what time we get back home, not everything gets pulled out of the car that night. If we don’t arrive until 8 p.m., for instance, I’m not going to unpack every magazine, neck pillow and AAA Tour Guide.
No problem. Nobody was going to break into a locked van with an activated alarm just to get a box of rolled oats, some graham crackers and a Ziploc full of cinnamon-and-ginger spiced brown sugar. Right?
Does that ingredient list sound familiar?
That night, when our unpacking was 95 percent done, so was I. Grabbing the remote from the kitchen drawer, I clicked the control button to close and lock various van doors.
Note: From our kitchen window, we can see part of whatever car is parked in our circular driveway, but because of a high fence and monster bay tree, we don’t see much.
I heard the honk-beep and saw the van’s lights flash, so I knew the remote had been in range. I assumed everything else had worked, too.
The next morning, fate reminded me of the folly of assuming.
The van’s front doors were locked, all right, but both side doors and the back hatch had been wide open all night long. They hadn’t closed after all.
A bunch of rampaging raccoons apparently had thrown a frat party in the van, and after their buffet, they left behind a collage of leftover-food-as-modern art. All over the seats, carpets, walls and even a window or two.
Imagine finger painting with brown sugar that dense fog had melted to lumpy caramel. Using rolled oats as fairy dust. Sprinkling cookie crumbs like a bandit-masked Hansel or Gretel.
I took one horrified look and headed for the car wash. Expensive, but it worked.
Later — much later — I realized things could have been far worse.
The van could have been filled with bags of organic fertilizer.