Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Stench Factor

For some reason, I can drive a route with relatively few problems until the last day of a signup. After three months of the route, the regulars know me and every bump in the road is programmed into my auto-pilot. All is good (usually) until that last day. Then, this happens.

Cruising along with my thoughts a few evenings ago, my nostrils were suddenly and violently assaulted. (No cause for concern, this wasn't that type of assault.) Strange odors are commonplace, as people are bound to display a variety of scents. This time though, my nose hairs retreated and nostrils went into full lock down mode. Mouth breathing merely invited the gag reflex. I opened my window and inhaled just as Bobbie BigTruck blasted me with clouds of diesel exhaust in a display of penile deficiency.

Imagine a can of dog food left out in the hot summer sun for several days, then brought back inside. Cover that with burnt cat excrement covered with the sweat of a hairy mountain man who hasn't bathed in months. Top it all off with Limburger cheese adorned with a fish carcass rotting on top of... well you get it. No need to continue. The stench was as putrid as the phrase "I'm going to be honest."

As my mind struggled with the cause of this unwelcome visitor to my hitherto-mellow roll, a young lass appeared at my shoulder.

"There's a guy back there," she said, gesturing toward the furthermost rear of the bus, "and he's gross. Took off his shoes and..."

"Ahh," I almost choked in reply, "so that's the cause of this monstrous stench?"

"Yeah," Little Miss replied. "Can you do something about it? It's making me sick."

"I hear ya," I said. My eyes stung with what my other senses couldn't handle.

Immediately tuning up my usually-silent microphone, I asked who was responsible for my having to pull the bus over at an empty stop. Several fingers pointed toward the culprit, a fare-evader, as they rushed to open windows. His appreciation for the free ride had been to remove his mouldering shoes. My next action was to invite him to exit the bus. To the relief of us all, he did.

Immediately, I felt relief but also guilt. This poor guy, while young in years, hobbled off as if he'd been horribly injured. His shoes hung on his feet by a shoelace, their usefulness long since past. He had probably removed them for relief, not realizing his lack of bathing made his feet unbearably fragrant, and apologized as he exited.

After a few minutes, we were all able to breathe again. The young man's exit however, caused a few of us to express regrets for his situation. Obviously homeless, he was so accustomed to not having bathing facilities, he was unaware of his own body odor. His behavior upon leaving was that of horrid embarrassment and shame. The shallow shadows of our souls celebrated his exit, while the gentler angels of our sorrow wagged fingers at us.

We're all human, sharing this planet whatever our circumstances. Those of us with gainful employment, a roof above our beds and hot water at the turn of a faucet, tend to belittle those who have not. Yes, our senses were assailed for a few minutes. But this poor soul likely stumbled into the darkness into the depths of what little comfort the streets have to offer.

My humanity took a knife that night. Shoulda asked him to put his shoes back on. If he woulda, perhaps he coulda ridden to a safe haven for the night. What the hell is wrong with me?


  1. There was a fellow who would ride the #20 to Laurelhurst Park every night, and they had dedicated an old walk-up bus for that run. The windows were always open, and you could smell him when he wasn't on the bus. Smelled as if someone had just shit out a freshly-chopped onion.

  2. At the time, our senses take over our compassion. I know I have experienced the same thing. Here they're churches that will allow you to take a shower while they wash their clothes and feed them. I had a guy in a wheelchair that smelled like your describing, and to get down to strap him down was torture to say the least. Well I finally refused to pick him up until he got cleaned up...come yo find out, he didn't even need the chair, he used it to get free rides or discounted he just waves to me...