In the middle of the summer, Baltimore is the city that stinks

Jacques Kelly

July 22, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

It's the fourth week in July and the air hanging over the city is the color of cigarette smoke. Baltimore is not at its best. For every Miles River crab consumed at a Belair Road bar, there's a discarded crab shell perfuming the alley behind it.

The city stinks and the humid air bestrides the city like a hangover. Consider a few of these smells that are familiar to people without air conditioned houses or cars.

There's a scent of decaying leaves down deep in the Gwynns Falls Valley where Windsor Mill Road dips under the Clifton Avenue Bridge.

And, if your nose is a good detective, there's a scent of hooch in the air at the Calvert Distillery at Relay.

Then again, if a bulk carrier ship is docked at Amstar, the Domino Sugar refinery in Locust Point, the smell is reminiscent of cotton candy.

Just next door at the Procter and Gamble plant, the scent is likely that of Ivory Liquid.

And the ancient powder magazine at Fort McHenry produces the scent of a cool cellar.

The Fairfield-Brooklyn approach roads to the Francis Scott Key Bridge yield a heady cocktail of odors. It's the classic American East Coast industrial city scent -- chemicals, asphalt, hot rubber, automobile pollution and July heat. Not as bad as the New Jersey Turnpike, but not something to be bottled and sold at an Owings Mills Mall perfume counter.

The concourses of Memorial Stadium provide their signature scents of peanuts, stale beer, hot dogs and mustard.

The Jeppi Nut Company, in the 300 block of High St., of course, provides the smell of roasted nuts.

Come supper time, the smell of pesto sauce wafts through yuppie districts like Bolton Hill.

Neighborhood bakeries always provide sweet smells. The ovens at H&S Bakery in Fells Point never quit. And it's impossible to walk along Hampden's 36th Street and not be seduced by the scents of the New System Bakery's raisin bread or sticky buns.

People often argue about the strong smell of vinegar at West Cold Spring Lane and the Jones Falls Expressway. It's the Fleischmann works, 1900 Brand Ave., where vinegar is made from alcohol. Sometimes this gets mistaken for a pickle works.

Hull Street in Locust Point, near Fort McHenry, has its own little pier for harbor watchers. Walk out there and you'll soon detect the smell of molasses. There are huge tanks just to the side of the street. Wait for a CSX train to deliver a tank car full of it.

And is there anything worse than the smells of popcorn and pizza that permeate climate-controlled shopping malls?

I shouldn't leave out the scents of McCormick spices in Hunt Valley; ditto Noxell for oil of clove and eucalyptus. On certain days, the smell of roasting coffee beans is evident at Eagle Coffee Co. in Oldtown and Pfefferkorn's Coffee Inc. in Federal Hill.

And lastly, there is that most urban of summertime smells, the hot tar that roofers use. It's Hades at your front door.

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