I have no idea what to pay for anything anymore. Once upon a time, when old-normal was the law of the land, I had an innate sense of the value of a pack of eggs, the right amount to pay for a casual dinner for two, my upper limit on specialty ingredients, exactly how far I could abuse a company lunch budget. Some would call me stingy, but I’d define it more precisely as “conservatively price sensitive.” In other words, I’d crush on The Price Is Right.
The COVID-19 crisis has now completely rewritten the financial rules that I once held sacred — but I’m rolling with it. A 100 percent markup on eggs? That’s reasonable in a time of global crisis. Bulk snack orders from Nuts.com? Seems like a good investment. Takeout five days a week? We need to support restaurants.
But even with the world on fire, $400 for a cooler seems excessive. I’m not one to splurge on gadgets, especially something that sits idle in a closet for months at a time, waiting patiently until I have an opportunity to travel again. I’ll get by on that insulated lunch bag from Marshalls, thank you very much.
Then came a two-week cross-country road trip in the middle of a global pandemic. Suddenly, a really nice cooler became not just alluring, but imperative.
At the end of August, my fiance and I finished up a well-timed six-month house-sitting gig in Los Angeles and decided it was time to make our way back home to Brooklyn. We drove, and decided to avoid contact with other humans as much as possible by camping in national parks and booking extremely remote Airbnbs (indoor vs. outdoor toilets was a serious consideration). To minimize visits to crowded restaurants, we planned to cook the whole way. We just needed a cooler for storing essential ingredients. We already owned a few basic options from picnics and day trips in the past, but then my brother-in-law (100 percent the type to splurge on gadgets) offered to loan us the luxe Cigreen model.
Let me be clear: This is not your run-of-the-mill Igloo. Unlike a generic cooler, which provides enough insulation to keep food cold for a few days with the help of a few gallons of ice, the Cigreen cooler plugs into a car’s auxiliary power outlet, aka the “cigarette lighter.” It uses juice from the car battery to not just store but freeze foods down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or even heat them to 130 degrees (though I haven’t tested the heating function), all controlled from a schmancy touchscreen. It doesn’t require messy refills of ice or annoying space-stealing freezer packs. Get it cold enough before turning off the car for the night, and you can rely on it to stay moderately chill until morning, even on a stifling, triple-digit summer night. You can always bring it inside an Airbnb to plug it into a wall outlet too.
While the interior isn’t massive, a user can make good use of the space available, since there aren’t any bulky freezer packs to take up precious room. It’s spacious enough for a few deli containers sitting upright, along with a can or two of soda and a few other fixings. It slides perfectly into the middle rear seat of a car, allowing easy access for a passenger riding shotgun, especially since the lid unlatches easily from the front and naturally swings ajar. Compared to a traditional cooler, which can be too deep to reach from the front seat and awkward to open, the Cigreen is far superior for snacking on the move. It also fits snugly among a bajillion boxes and bags crammed into every corner of a midsize SUV (in case I’m not the only person foolish enough to road trip and also move across the country during a pandemic).
It is, succinctly, a cooler cooler.
When my brother offered it to us, what he said was, “You should take our cooler. We just used it on a road trip too. It’s super useful for keeping food fresh for weeks. It plugs into the car so you can keep food cold for weeks at any temperature you want.” What I heard was, “You can have milk and eggs and butter everywhere you go, and still have room to lug everything else you own! You can refresh yourself while driving with an ice-cold (but not wet) LaCroix anytime of day! You can pre-cook meals before camping! This cooler will make a hellish slog across the virus-riddled wasteland that has become of America into a reasonably enjoyable, reasonably safe pleasure cruise!” He didn’t have to repeat himself. We took the cooler immediately.
On the road, we treated ourselves to fried eggs with buttered toast in the mornings, pasta salad with super-cheesy pesto for lunch, and avocado toast with fully loaded salads for dinner. We preserved a sourdough starter to bake a loaf halfway through the trip. We stored produce from a Denver farmers market, snacked on charcuterie near the World’s Only Corn Palace in South Dakota, and dug into cottage cheese while sitting on the bleachers of the Field of Dreams set in the middle of Iowa (an admittedly weird meal). The few flaws we encountered with the cooler — accidentally freezing hard-boiled eggs, changing the display temperature to Celsius and not knowing how to change it back — were clearly user errors.
The best part, though, was that we actually saved money, and not just because we got the cooler on loan. Two weeks’ worth of takeout for two people could have easily topped $400.
With our epic road trip in the rearview mirror and the Cigreen returned to its rightful owner, I don’t plan to need another extreme electrified cooler in the immediate future. On my next trip, I hope to be able to enjoy more stops at restaurants (assuming there are still roads and restaurants by the time this is all over).
Yet the Cigreen cooler changed the way I travel — probably forever. I’ll always want eggs and butter and milk on future road trips. I’ll want ingredients to make leisurely meals in Airbnb kitchens and barebones campsites. As someone who enjoys cooking, I won’t want to give that up while traveling, whether there’s a pandemic on or not.
I’ll tell myself it will help me save money on expensive restaurant meals and achieve self-reliance wherever I go, but really I just want fresh eggs every morning without having to put on pants. I can’t put a price on that.