Hardware store owners always look like hardware store owners and newsagents always look like newsagents, but the people who run motels never look like they run motels. I wonder why.
The woman in the office was in her fifties and tall, and had intelligent emerald eyes and a sensitive mouth and long hair stacked up in a kind of two-storey nest with a tortoiseshell stick the size of a chopstick separating the two storeys. She could have been a folk singer or a psychoanalyst or a society page editor, but here she was running a sleepy motel in a sleepy town on the northern slopes of the Great Dividing Range.
The woman looked up from behind the counter as I entered and I asked her if there was a room and she said, yes indeed, there was, in an Irish lilt. She gave me the key to room two and would I like any milk? Yes, I replied and she disappeared and came back with a small ceramic jug. I got back into the car and handed the jug to Tracy and drove the car fifty metres to room two and wondered where I should have placed the jug had I not someone in the car to hold it.
It had been another intensely hot day and we had been driving through central Victoria, picking our way through small towns, and this had seemed a nice place to stop for the day.
The room was like someone's 1970s lounge room. It was orange. It was comfortable in a three-star motel kind of way and had one of those old hole-in-the-wall air conditioners that rumble when they run and click off with a hiss, but the air coming out of it seemed cool enough. In the main room, there was a queen bed and a fold-out sofa. A television sat in the middle of a counter that ran the length of the wall. At one end, a tray held a kettle, two cups and saucers, two glasses and a plastic rack of sugar, tea and coffee sachets. A large ceramic bowl sat on a small square table by the window.
Eating can be a challenge in a motel. You can eat out - if there is a restaurant in town - or find take away. Generally the first thing I do in these places is check out the dinner options. If they don't look so good, I'll take the Third Way - visit the supermarket and make it up from scratch, bearing in mind the room has no cooking facilities.
Potato, asparagus and red salmon salad.
From the supermarket:
One can baby potatoes. One can asparagus tips. One can red salmon. A dozen snow peas and two medium truss tomatoes from the fresh section. A dozen feta-stuffed tiny red peppers and a small container of halved, marinated green olives from the deli section. Ensure cans have ring-pull tops unless the room is equipped with a can-opener. (I carry one in the car along with my basic picnic set of plates, cutlery, salt and pepper.)
I drained the potatoes and asparagus tips and placed them in the large ceramic bowl on the table by the window. I sliced the tomatoes into segments and added these, then topped it all with drained salmon chunks. The snow peas only need twenty seconds in boiling water - easy: I turned on the kettle and blanched them in the cups. (I've made couscous in this way in the past and it works fine. Kind of.) I dotted the tiny stuffed peppers over the salad and tossed over the green olives. The marinated oil in these became the dressing, along with the juice of half a lemon.
The other half of the lemon went into the gin and tonics. Yes, there was ice in the fridge. That's almost four-star.
Has anyone else made it up on the move?