Friday, March 23, 2007

Public transit story #18: Saving it for later

I admit: I have a very poor sense of smell.

For most of my life my nasal passages were completely clogged by allergies. It's only been in the past few years that I've been able to breathe through my nose. Say what you will about mouth-breathers--I've heard it all before.

Now there is a whole olfactory world out there with which I must become acquainted. I can smell lots of things now, but I have no idea what they are. I'm really good at identifying things like natural gas, peanut butter, baked goods, vanilla, popcorn and sulfur. But I tend to label vaguely unpleasant odors as one of the following:

1) tuna fish;
2) toast;
3) burning motor oil; or
4) pee.

You'd be surprised at how often I think Berkeley smells like tuna fish or toast. But then there was one morning when our entire neighborhood smelled to me like nasty stir-fry. The culprit turned out to be the garbage truck, which is powered by vegetable oil. Kitchen waste + hot vegetable oil = nasty stir-fry, indeed.

Mrs. Gerbil has the sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying task of helping me identify odors. Sometimes I need assistance telling burning motor oil from hot engine; but most of the time it's pot versus skunk. I know skunk very well, as I grew up in skunk country and have experienced live skunk under the house, dead skunk under the house, and of course dead skunk in the middle of the road. During my senior year of high school, a skunk crawled under the house, died, and perfumed all of my clothes. I was definitely not the most popular kid in school the next day. But I digress.

Pot versus skunk is tough. Mrs. Gerbil admits that pot smells like skunk, but her rule of thumb is that skunk travels, whereas pot does not. Sometimes, while we're driving on the highway, I'll yell "SKUNK!" and Mrs. Gerbil will say, "No, honey, that's pot." Which begs the question: why does the highway smell like pot, or rather, who's driving while stoned?

BART trains often smell like pot/skunk. (I'd rather people take transit while stoned than drive while stoned, but then I'd really prefer they sit in another car.) I'm reasonably certain that no one gets on BART after being sprayed by a skunk, and also reasonably certain that a whole lot of people in the Bay Area get stoned with great frequency. Most of the time it's teenagers who fragrance BART, but occasionally there's a middle-aged ex-hippie providing the aromatherapy.

On Tuesday an elderly, distinguished-looking gentleman sat down in front of me, and at that moment my world began to smell like a head shop. A lot of teenagers had boarded at the same time, so I gave in to stereotyping and figured one of them was high.

Then I saw the last little bit of a joint tucked behind this man's rather sizable ear.

I was proud of myself for correctly identifying pot, but I was even more impressed by this guy's storage facilities.


katsfiction said...

Correctly identifying pot vs. skunk has been something I have yet to master myself. It was very confusing to me why the dorms at Marshall would sometimes smell like skunk despite being outside skunk territory... thankfully another RA was willing to inform me that they smell nearly the same. I still can't tell them apart when it would be reasonable for "skunk" to be a correct answer though. :-)

Heather said...

I never knew the pot/skunk thing... that really would have helped me as an RA in college!

KK said...

Wow, I don't think they smell at all alike... pot has an underlying sweetness to the smell. Burning sage, however, smells just like pot.

Oh, and the old guy might've had a prescription for that pot, BTW. ;)