When I was a kid—maybe 12 or 13 years old—my family was camping north of Steamboat, Colo., one chilly summer night when my mother opened a can and heated up dinner, giving me my first taste of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Steam rose from my bowl into the cold, Rocky Mountain air as I slurped down that delicious, fat- and sodium-laden gruel. It was nirvana.
I made Mom promise to buy more when we got home, so a couple of weeks later we opened another can and I learned how something that tastes great in the woods can be absolutely inedible in the comfort of your own home. To this day, I won't touch Dinty Moore stew.
Unless I'm camping, that is.
I still occasionally toss a can into the food box for a trip. I once even fired up a campstove a 9:30 p.m. outside a cabin in Yellowstone National Park because I needed a bedtime snack and we were heading toward home the next morning. I had carried a can of that shit all the way from New Mexico just to eat it in Yellowstone and, goddammit, I was gonna eat it in Yellowstone. Mmm hmm, it was good.
Food is strange like that. Crappy in one setting, wonderful in another. I sometimes think about that when I'm riding my bike and catch a whiff of food from a restaurant that otherwise might not interest me. Nothing else makes food smell as good as it does when you smell it from the saddle of a bicycle.
I used to ride from the north side of Anchorage to the south side in the middle of the night after finishing my shift at the newspaper. My route took me by two doughnut joints that were usually making a fresh batch for the morning customers. I'd ride through clouds of doughnut aroma that would almost suck me right off the bike and into the shops.
The food doesn't have to be good. It can be McDonald's. Sometimes it's Chinese food. Or Mexican. (If the smell of margaritas could drift into the street, I'd be in real trouble.)
As I left my office one afternoon last week, it was French fries. Across the street from my office is a Red Robin, where the food and atmosphere are in constant competition for which can suck the worst. Didn't matter. For a few seconds, those fries smelled gooood.
Fortunately, the combination of carrying little cash and having someplace to go (like home for dinner) keeps me from stopping and walking into a restaurant every time a tempting aroma catches my attention.
Also saving me from ruin is the fact that Anchorage doesn't have a single Krispy Kreme franchise.