Our ability to smell is an important defensive sense.  We can smell if food is rotten.  We can smell if we have a natural gas leak.  We can “smell the scent of danger in the air.”  I try to take care of my nose and sinuses with a neti pot infusion every day, and I do think that therapy helps keep my sniffer alive and active and sensitive.

Lately, in Jersey City, I have been smelling a familiar — yet absolutely utterly new — sensation while I take my daily walks.  The smell is that of Hellfire in the air — and if you’ve ever been in a house fire, as I have, that smell of death and danger is something that never leaves you.  That scent of Hellfire awakens you at night and panics you in silence on the street.

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed that intensive burning smell on the street, and every single time I smell it, I turn around looking for a fire.  I actually say out loud, even when I’m alone, “Someone’s house is burning!”  I get tense and concerned, and yet I never hear a siren or see a fire engine careening down the street.  Hellfire isn’t smoky.  Hellfire is the smell of intensive flames.

Almost as soon as I smell the Hellfire in the air, the scent disappears, and I feel silly and I wonder if I imagined the whole thing.

It has taken me months of deductive analysis to finally drill down to figure out what is throwing the smell of Hellfire into the Air:  New Jersey’s new natural gas busses!

It was tricksy divining the Hellfire was from the busses — not all busses — and not all busses on every route.  The busses were infrequently in an around the PATH station, but never at the same time and never in an instance of more than one.

I finally figured out the smell when one of those busses almost ran over me and I was overwhelmed with that instantly identifiable Hellfire smell as my life flashed before my eyes.

Over the next few weeks, whenever that Hellfire would leap into my nostrils, I’d stop whatever I was doing and look for a bus; every time, there was a bus — right there! — turning a corner or accelerating near me.

Scent solved, but problem brewing!

As more of these natural gas busses start careening down our streets and pathways to replace their diesel brethren, what are we going to do with that horrible, acrid, Hellfire stank they emit? Will we have to hold our noses to hail a cab instead instead of boarding a burning bus?


  1. sounds and smells horrible – I can smell it from here. They are going to have to find a way to deal with it – neutralize it or add something to it ……………

    1. Those are my thoughts, Nicola! I don’t think I have Super-Smelling talent or anything — hot is hot — and it is an unmistakable scent of danger.

      I know they add a bad smell to natural gas to make leaks more readily identifiable in the home — but can you add a “cold” smell to counteract the Hellfire from a bus?

  2. I know the smell – there is a natural gas plant just down the road from Pau where we were at the weekend – when the wind blows in the wrong direction it is nauseating. Sounds like a good research project – hot smells and cold smells and can they find a cold smell to counteract that particular hot smell. I wonder if they publically acknowledge that their busses smell like that ?

    1. I couldn’t find anything that mentions the smell — I think they’re hoping nobody will notice. If you haven’t been in a fire, you might just smell something faintly hot, maybe like a barbecue grill starting up with coals, and ignore it since the smell doesn’t stay around long. The more busses that start hitting the street over the next few years will be telling…

      If you’ve been in a fire, then the Hellfire stink of burning metal on liquid metal is something you will never forget and cannot ignore.

      We live downwind from a recycling plant — that burns their unwanted waste in the middle of the night — and when the wind is just right… uh, actually… just wrong… the stank in the air is so horrible it wakes you up from a deep sleep even if you have the whole building locked up tight.

  3. Maybe they should add a smell of something pleasant so that people know that the bus is coming — freshly cut grass, or popcorn, for example!

  4. This quite an interesting article. I looked into your other article about the Neti Pot and it seems like it would be very helpful to my constant stuffy nose. Do you think that would work out too as well as fixing up my “sniffer” a bit.

    1. A neti pot is just what you need! It’s quite wonderful for sinus and allergy problems. Some people do a neti pot three times a day. Right now, one is enough for me, but if I get sick or if the air is really dry, I’ll go up to three.

        1. There are lots of neti pots and there much more ubiquitous now than there were 10 years ago.

          Walgreens has a good selection and I buy my NeilMed stuff from there. The NeilMed squeeze bottle is much easier and faster to use than a gravity pot. I like their pre-packaged salt and baking soda — makes it simple and mindless to use:


          Just be sure to use distilled water! There are dangers using tap water:


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