Today at about 5 pm I picked up a rental car, a not-very-fun, not-very-new Chevy Impala. While driving it home, I noticed almost sub-consciously the smell of food. I attributed the smell to the various nearby restaurants and really didn’t give the matter much thought.
But the odor lingered. It had to be some awful fast-food sandwich, some big nasty thing that towered three feet high and squirted thick, greasy globs of sauce out of its back while a pig-man stuffed the monstrosity into his gaping maw, biting and biting at the portable slop bucket heaped between two halves of a machine-sliced bun (for easy handling).
I really don’t like to watch people eat, but sometimes I can’t seem to help it. I’ve observed that the size of the person very often corresponds to the size of their bite. Little dainty women take tiny little pecks of food like a sparrow, while big walrus men stuff heaping forkfuls of food into their whiskered faces, or—in the case of sandwiches—they chomp their food in enormous bites. And among these “chompers” are those who hold their sandwich against their face and bite away multiple times, like they’re swimming through their meal as they eat it. Horrifying!
Surely one of these chompers must have eaten his Big Mac or Whopper or Subway sandwich in the Chevy Impala just minutes before. The oniony sandwich juice must have dribbled onto the seats, or maybe the slob had mindlessly smeared his sandwich-slathered fingers all over the steering wheel, on the gear shift, on the door handles. The thoughts made me shudder in revulsion and grimace in loathing.
Was it the previous renter, some swine who had defiled his car one last time before dropping it off? Or, even worse perhaps, was it one of the people who supposedly clean the car after drop-off, or an inspector?
I considered returning to Enterprise and demanding a new car that didn’t smell like someone’s nasty meal. But I thought it was absurd to return it. I really only need to drive this car tomorrow, and then I’ll drop it off. Surely I could tolerate this smell for just a single day!
But the smell seemed to intensify as I drove along. I could see an enormous cheeseburger riding in the passenger seat, giggling and twisting behind the seat belt, wiggling its bun into the cushions, bits of sauce and sesame seeds raining all over the dash and the windows. But the giant sandwich was never really alive at all! A rather porcine and corpulent man had hidden inside, devouring the sandwich from the inside out, a porculent man with black hair and blue eyes and an over-sized mouth (the better to eat sandwiches with!). The glutton shared an infuriating resemblance to Gailard Sartain from Hee Haw. Sartrain had poked his filthy head out of the top bun, his face adorned with chunks of tomatoes, onions, and lettuce and unfathomable orange-colored sauce, and he grinned at me before diving back inside the cheeseburger to chomp away some more.
How dare this other human force me to remember that I’m driving the automotive equivalent of a public toilet! I should be able to forget that other people have used and abused this car, to pretend that their taint has been thoroughly bleached away. Even if a previous renter had driven this car only minutes before, I shouldn’t be confronted with any trace of their existence.
But I had an idea! An air freshener would surely do the trick! By tomorrow, the sandwich smell could be a half-forgotten memory! The good ones at AutoZone were all six dollars, but two of them sold more reasonably for $2.99. Not wanting Evergreen, I opted instead for the New Car Smell. To my later chagrin.
Four reeking air fresheners hung from the rear view mirror, smelling like a Red Hat Society bathroom (not new car) but joined with a sloppy, oniony sandwich hidden out of sight atop the Red Hats’ paper towel dispenser where an old lady couldn’t reach. A hideous combination!
Another idea! There was the still-smoldering pile of burning leaves in the back yard. I rushed into my house, flung the yapping terror away with my foot, ignored poor Millie’s innocently cheerful question about the rental car, and snatched a bed sheet out of the dresser. Outside I held the sheet within the white plumes of leaf smoke, occasionally coughing as the smoke wafted into my face. Then I hung the sheet over the the Impala’s front seats. Surely that would offset the terrible new car smell and help mask the stench of that awful sandwich!
I returned inside. Millie asked me what was the horrible smell. I told her about the sheet and the burning leaf smoke. “I don’t smell smoke. I smell dog poop! It’s really bad!” Her face twisted in disgust.
How could I forget all of the dog feces mixed with the leaves? Normally I’m more diligent about keeping up with the lawn messes of that infernal squeaking spoiled beast, but I’d procrastinated all summer about cleaning it up, what with the moles tearing up the lawn and all, and I’d just raked it all up with the leaves.
I grabbed several Snuggle fabric softener sheets from the laundry room and removed the sheet from the rental car, replacing it with those. Then off to the shower for me!
I can only hope that the combined assault of the old-lady air fresheners and the dryer sheets will battle and defeat the evil forces of sloppy sandwich and smoked dog dung by tomorrow morning!
[Update: 13 November – The next morning, the situation in the car had returned to status quo ante bellum, with just the sandwich smell hanging around like a sleeping bum but the smoky smell eradicated. I decided to call Enterprise to see if they’d let me swap with another car. Remarkably, they cheerfully agreed to swap the tainted car out, and not only did the Ford Taurus smell much better, it really was a nicer car to drive than the Impala (even though I’ve never liked Fords). Cheers to Bryan and Andrew at Enterprise!
 That would be the old-man shuffle, where I travel at the same speed as normal but sweep my arms more quickly and bob my head in and out, huffing and puffing, to make me feel like I’m moving faster.