Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Commute: Somewhere Odor the Rainbow

On some rides, a song gets into my head. No, not from earbuds; I don't subscribe to making yourself deaf to sounds that inform you of traffic and other cyclists who would like you to get out of their way and not pose a threat to yourself and others. I don't know where these songs come from, and I can't say that they are appropriate to a particular time and place, except only in ways that my subconscious could explain, if it could explain--but then it wouldn't be very sub. Today's song was Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It may help to crank that tune while you read this post. Just as the tune of the day kicked in, I turned the corner and saw this:

Which is remarkable for its utter ghost town-like emptiness. At this time of the morning, this section of the street is usually full of large vehicles transporting the wee ones to school. Today, everyone but me is sleeping in. Of course, the mere act of taking out the camera to snap a street empty of vehicles called in the vehicles. Right after this shot hit the CCD and settled onto my SD card, a shiny SUV drove by and filled my nose with the odor of catalyzed unleaded fuel. You know that smell? Some common wisdom on the net asserts that the smell comes from sulfur compounds. Having burned a lot of sulfur myself in teenage chemistry experiments, as well as having lived in the shadow of a coal-burning power plant that emitted enough sulfur to induce choking sensations some days, that smell doesn't remind me of sulfur. It only reminds me of the first new car my Dad brought home with a converter. I'm pretty sure it was a 1975 Ford LTD Country Squire wagon. With those sweet simulacrum wood sides. I heard some media authority figure state categorically that humans lack the ability to summon odors to mind from memory. Bull. I can smell the fetid odor from that car's tailpipe just by picturing those gorgeous wood trim side panels, and vice versa. I can summon citrus, cherry, and dozens of other smells. In the case of the catalytic converter odor, though, it is so noxious that it's stored in the bad smell bucket, cut off from any good (or bad) memories associated with it. Unlike, for example, diesel exhaust, which I associate with a late-night stop at the Greyhound terminal in Chicago in 1981, where I sat with a fellow passenger playing gin for $10,000 per hand. Jim, if you're out there, I haven't forgotten the 70 grand I lost. My intent is to make it up to you somehow. Since I also associate diesel fumes with China in the year I was there, when it seems like the cities were diesel fume saturated, I'm likely to get a faraway look in my eye whenever a passing truck gases me. Those happy associations with diesel fumes were threatened today, though, illustrating that memory and scent associations in particular could be fickle and fragile things. As I paused to snap this shot of the rusted fish of doom:

A passing truck blasted me with the precious elixir of the fumes of faraway places and exotic experiences, when I looked across at the canal and saw this:

Which stinks. What does it mean to me exactly? Do they consider me riding my bike to work as "recreational usage?" I would assume that a guy riding to his job in order to put food on his table and presents under the Xmas tree so that his wee ones don't collapse into despair-ridden toylessness would not qualify as "recreational." The other side has the same sign, so it's possible they are taking a month and a half to drain and clean this section of all the garbage and rusted shopping carts and mutant duck carcasses that lurk beneath its swirling surface. So check back to this space in the timeframe of JAN5 for an update. I'll attempt to probe a canal worker for clarification of "recreational usage." Rusted fish of doom is not amused. Get up. Go ride.

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