Humdrum 1: Inspired by Molasses

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Intriguing molasses

Earlier this month, I spent a week in Denver for a long overdue vacation, and stayed in an airbnb. The private apartment was a small one bedroom, but it definitely lived up to the “quaint” description with its exposed-brick fireplace. I love poking my head into other people’s homes and opening drawers and cabinets, not that I’m looking for secrets or anything, but because I’m curious on how other people live. (Example: I was delighted to discover the washing machine in the kitchen of an airbnb in Amsterdam).

The real gems in this Denver apartment were in the kitchen: apple cider vinegar, two (!) aged balsamic vinegars, a big tub of Folgers coffee sitting atop the fridge, baking soda, pancake mix, ranch dressing, buttered-flavored syrup, Aunt Jemima syrup, distilled white vinegar, coconut oil, molasses, Grand Marnier, grated ginger, whole gloves, ground chocolate, chili power, honey, two bags of microwave popcorn, and a bag of Allegro ground coffee found in the freezer, enough for just two cups.

The pancake mix made sense to me because if you’re on vacation, you have time to make pancakes in the morning and why wouldn’t you? As a lover of Chinese cooking, the Kikkoman soy sauce made sense. (I used to have the same kind of bottle in my fridge at home). But the molasses?! I was straight up befuddled by this almost full jar of molasses. I had lots of questions.

  • Who bought the molasses? Are they a baker of some sort? Was this leftover from the owners?

  • What did they make with it?

  • Why did the buy it in the first place? Was it for a fancy event?

  • What else does this person like to cook?

  • What else did they buy?

  • How do they feel about molasses? Like is this one of those things you can’t live without (like butter, for me) or did they get a bug up their butt to make a certain dish that required the single tablespoon of molasses that was used?

  • How long has it been sitting in the cabinet?

  • How long did they stay in this apartment? Did they intend on using the molasses for more stuff?

There’s no way to answer these questions, and on the exciting scale, finding a jar of molasses in some stranger’s cupboard doesn’t even rank compared to seeing a male elk walk across the street to a mini golf course (which I totally saw happen my second day in Denver).

But staying in another person’s home is chance to glimpse how someone else lives. The walls that stand literally between us vanish for the duration of the stay. Hotels are cold and sterile-feeling, designed to make you feel like you’re the first person ever to step inside that room. Any traces of another person are gross and cause to go somewhere else.

Of course private airbnbs lack the intimacy of staying in the home with someone else, but in private accommodations, there are these ghosts of the people who had stayed before. Thinking about their leave-behinds, I wonder what other people did during their stay. Were they alone? In town for work or vacation? Did they snowboard, hit a bar in Lodo, drive over to Estes Park, take in a museum? It’s these differences that make us human after all.

After a week, I left behind my own traces: butter, peanut butter, an apple. Tame and boring things, compared to the molasses.

About this newsletter
Humdrum is written by Christina Brandon, a user experience researcher and writer based in Chicago who is eternally intrigued by the strangeness of other humans. She's reading an essay she wrote at Miss Spoken on May 25 and is otherwise furiously scribbling to finish a memoir about teaching English in China.

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