It wasn’t until I became friends with someone who is particularly sensitive to car exhaust that I realized that hey, car exhaust smells!

This friend educated me on the need (once in a while on hot stuffy days, when following an old clunker, and while driving in tunnels) to switch my car’s air conditioning to the “recirculated air” option. Yep, I was in my early twenties when I learned what that button did!

Later, I asked my husband to describe the smell of car exhaust to me. Here’s what he wrote in my smell dictionary:

EXHAUST ~ You might have heard that the smell of exhaust is the same as the smell of gasoline, but this is only partially true. The smells are counterparts, certainly, but exhaust has a dusty, gritty quality, while gasoline is silkier in some ways, much more Persian. In this way, exhaust is more overpowering, with the bullying stance of enraged homeless man, struggling for dignity with a knife in his back pocket. The color is deep, deep gray—just this side of black. Imagine grainy soot at the bottom of a fireplace. That’s exhaust. Level of Intensity: 13 (2-14-05)

What do you think? Is the above description accurate?

My Take on Alan’s Description

In the past, I have heard from many people that car exhaust smells like gasoline…which yes, always begs the question, “Well, what does gasoline smell like?”

Alan’s description is something a little easier to visualize than say “smells like gasoline”; however, there are a few things I still don’t understand. Like, what does “more Persian” smell like? For that matter, what does it mean? Maybe this is just my inability to accurately describe “Persian” in any connotation of the word.

I love the description of the enraged homeless man with a knife! That description allows me to ascribe a tone or at least a primal instinct to the smell. Of everything listed above, this description is the most helpful.

I can’t help but wonder though if the color description is too easy, as really bad car exhaust is deep gray. Most of the time when assigning color to smells, it’s more about the general feeling that the color evokes rather than a description of what it looks like. Black is a color that I usually assign to formal elegance. So that description seems a bit contradictory. So, based on his description of the knife-happy homeless man, wouldn’t “pea soup green” be a better choice?