“Pistachio dust, oversized lint rollers and sliced cheese. The importance of non-liturgical rituals in modern travel.”
There’s a certain beauty to rituals, even non-liturgical ones. There is a gravitas implied in their repetition, no matter how mundane they might seem. The pre-return rental car clean is one such task. It forces one to reflect on the past while throwing out empty water bottles from the back seat, and to wonder if the weird stain on the driver’s headrest was there from a previous renter or if you’re to blame. Likewise, you think about the future. The flight you’ll catch, the walk to the terminal, but most importantly you wonder if you’ll be charged for the punishment you’ve put your Kia Soul, Chevy Impala or VW Jetta through.
In our case, it became increasingly clear throughout the Vuelta that this pre-return ritual (one we’ve performed in countless gas stations and parking lots before) would be of particular importance. Following a race gives one little time to do much except obsess about getting from the first point where you see the race to the second, and then maybe to the third (you’re almost assuredly not seeing it four times). You stress about the long transfer to the hotel, and (in our case) how far you’ll have drive to find Indian food in rural Spain. We tell you this merely to explain that during the course of a mission such as this, you unwittingly leave an astonishing amount of garbage in the back seat of the rental. And then the front seat. And then the trunk.
“Concerningly, and it gets increasingly weird as the days pass. Candy wrappers, paper coffee cups, porcelain coffee cups, peach pits, giveaway BIC razors, half-eaten sandwiches, rubber bands, crumbs, batteries, chunks of caked mud, gravel.”
Even though you try to clean out the car on a daily basis, it gets so bad that you have no choice but to ignore it just a bit. If you don’t you’ll drive yourself crazy; you might even start gagging here and there from the smell the whole thing starts to generate. Although that’s mostly because Daniel likes to store gas station-bought sliced cheese under the front passenger seat. Do you know what happens to sliced cheese when you leave it in a parked car in 92 degree heat with 89% humidity day after day? Well, as of last Saturday we didn’t, but we found out. And it’s not good.
All of this matters little, since you become accustomed to it. But the day of reckoning always puts things in perspective. You find yourself in a slightly depressing gas station in Madrid, wondering how on Earth you’re going to remove the vast amount of fine dust produced by Daniel eating bags and bags of pistachio nuts. We’re not talking about the shells. Those filled (and we mean completely filled) the driver’s door storage compartment. No, we are talking about the micro particles that come about when you snap a pistachio shell in half. It’s a minute amount per nut, but you eat so many bags and it adds up. It really, really adds up. It coats everything and begins to alter the color of the upholstery.
Sure, we know we don’t have to get the car to a point that anyone would consider spotless or even “clean”. But getting it merely to the point where the Avis lady won’t gasp—before tripling your bill because it will take small hazmat crew to clean it—is difficult.
Left with little recourse, we’re forced to used the big, highly adhesive stickers the Vuelta gives you to put on your windshields (to announce to local police officers that you are in fact part of the race, and most importantly, that you are, in fact, “prensa”) as gigantic, sticky lint rollers. It actually kind of works. Sort of. The car still smells, has many new stains, and will require jet engine-powered vacuum cleaners to prevent the next customer from requesting a different car in disgust. But it’s late and we have to go into the airport hotel, the one that’s actually inside the airport. The rooms are small. The rooms have no windows. The rooms have no real wi-fi to speak of. But it’s home for the night.
Daniel puts the keys in the night drop box. He does so slowly, because he’s afraid his phone will somehow fall into it, or that he hasn’t checked thoroughly enough under the seats for things he may have left behind. The drop box door snaps shut, and that’s that. Whatever fee will be incurred for the needed cleaning will be up to the aforementioned Avis lady.
“We tell ourselves it’s probably not the worst she’s seen, so we can sleep more comfortably in our overpriced shoebox.”
Our Stage 12 Report was written by Klaus.