Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rotten Eggs Are in the Nose of the Beholder

This morning I experienced a peculiar olfactory moment. A transitory scent wafting in the winter air suddenly, and without fair warning, brought me back to the New Jersey Turnpike. Most of my memories of the turnpike—and the area of northern New Jersey approaching the George Washington Bridge—are positive, even if they often smelled of rotten eggs and resembled the Industrial Revolution on steroids. You see, for me, the majority of times spent traversing the turnpike were pleasure related—the Bronx boy vacationing at the Jersey Shore, going to Philadelphia to catch a glimpse of the Liberty Bell and a baseball game at Veteran’s Stadium, or on a grammar school field trip to our nation’s capital.

The rotten egg stink in the air around parts of the turnpike and nearby thoroughfares—in what is a heavily industrialized sliver of New Jersey—was typically sweet smelling. That singular sliver of geography admirably served as a passageway from one world to another. As a boy, my sense of wonder knew no boundaries. The turnpike perfume coupled with the lay of the land outside the car windows supplied a unique, almost unforgiving ambiance. “Salty ocean air is just around the corner,” it said. Sometimes on my way to visit the maternal grandparents in Bangor, Pennsylvania, it cried, “Bucolic green and cornfields are just over that ridge.” The mess of traffic by the bridge and accompanying pollution served a purpose, I suppose. Leaving the city for a welcome change of scenery was always appreciated, and the sights, sounds, and smells in getting to our destinations were key ingredients in all the journeys.

Returning, as I recall, from whence we came was a different experience—usually bittersweet. The vacation’s over. It’s back to the heat and humidity of a New York City summer. On these return trips, the rotten egg aroma was no longer a sweet bouquet, but pretty disgusting. With the majestic city skyline looming to the east, any feelings of loss—of a vacation ending for instance—waged battle with the homecoming. At the end of the day, I guess, it was always good to breathe Bronx air again, while looking forward with wide-eyed anticipation to the next adventure, the next inhalation of rotten eggs, and the next sighting of oil refineries spewing soot and grime into the heavens. It’s a life lesson for sure: Rotten eggs are—really—in the nose of the beholder.

(Photo 2 from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.