Name That Smell

On February 26, 2013 · 10 Comments

Smells have a way of sticking with people. Everyone knows when they drive past a petrochemical factory, a paper mill, a landfill or a sewage treatment plant. The geographic location becomes lodged in one’s mind with a full set of highly-charged negative associations. I’m going to toss all of those aside. Instead I’m flipping the equation by recalling my favorite spots along the roadways that actually smell nice.

Smell is highly subjective so places that invoke a strong positive reaction with me might annoy or even offend others. Enjoy the scents I mention or plug your nose. Either is fine. I don’t mind. Then feel free to mention your favorite roadside olfactory memories and their locations.


Hershey Chocolate Factory
SOURCE: Flickr by “Scott Beale/Laughing Squid
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I used to attend an annual event each summer in Hershey, Pennsylvania (map) which is indeed the corporate headquarters location of the Hershey Company, the maker of those famous chocolates of the same name. Milton Hershey founded the company in the early 20th Century and built a chocolate factory in his hometown, Derry Church. The town changed its name to Hershey later as the chocolate company became so successful it literally put the settlement on the map.

Factory tours are not readily available to the general public. The closest an average tourist such as I could get to that cocoa nirvana was visiting Chocolate World, a simulated factory tour. Nonetheless, tiny chocolate-scented molecules escaped and permeated the town, and one could get a wonderful Hershey whiff if one were lucky.

Freshly Cured Tobacco

SOURCE: Flickr by bankbrian via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I am NOT a smoker. I’d really rather not breathe someone else’s secondhand cigarette smoke either and I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the odor as fewer and fewer places allow public smoking. Freshly cured tobacco, however, is a completely different story. I described my olfactory enjoyment in a previous 12MC article about a Virginia Smoking Ban, encountered outside of the Philip Morris – Altria plant (map):

I used to drive the length of Interstate 95 through Virginia frequently. I recall the smell of tobacco as I drove through the area south of Richmond. This wasn’t burning tobacco or cigarette smoke, but rather the sweet smell of tobacco going through the manufacturing process. It’s a smell I suppose one either loves or hates — I rather enjoyed it — but it’s difficult to miss as one passes through this section of the Interstate. The smell can be detected before one actually sees the cigarette logo spire in front of the massive Richmond Manufacturing Center of the Philip Morris company.

I does seem strange that I enjoy the odor of an unburned product while completely disliking its smoke. I can’t begin to reconcile it.

mmm… Doughnut!

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I’m with Homer Simpson on this one. A doughnut smell will start a drool reflex with me. Remember the Krispy Kreme craze that was all the rage a few years ago? That one seemed strange to me at the time. Krispy Kreme had been a fixture for my entire life because I’ve always been a resident of a southern state.

It was a pleasure to drive by the Krispy Kreme on Richmond Highway in northern Virginia, then notice the Hot Light turned on (meaning fresh donuts) and catch a whiff from the roadside. It was practically a right of passage to stop by after a night on the town and finish the evening with a deep-fried sugary treat.


Harpoon Brewery - Windsor, Vermont
For example, my visit to the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, Vermont (map)

Now I’m really getting excited. Have you ever driven past a brewery or brewpub when brewing was in progress? Aromas do manage to escape into the atmosphere in sufficient quantities to detect during the boiling process. It’s like a siren song compelling me to stop for a sampler, or more.

I guess that says a lot about me. My most memorable drive-by odors seem to be chocolate, tobacco, doughnuts and beer.

Canada to Mexico

On October 25, 2012 · 9 Comments

The Twelve Mile Circle continues to generate all sorts of interesting search engine queries, an endless stream of potential article topics. I remember back in the early days of the blog I had to come up with everything myself. That’s rarely an issue anymore. Case in point, someone wanted to know the shortest way to drive from Canada to Mexico.

I don’t know why someone would necessarily want or need this knowledge. One would have to cross through the United States any which way one slices it. This led me to conclude that perhaps my unknown visitor had an issue with the United States. He didn’t like it for some reason. Maybe he was a wanted criminal or an aging Vietnam War draft-dodger? Are the U.S. military authorities still looking for those guys? Never mind. Let’s just say they are for the sake of this exercise.

Maybe he’s a smuggler concealing something of particular value to people in Mexico but not to people in the United States? The query didn’t provide specifics so I’ll make them up. Let’s help our draft-dodging smuggler of Chinese counterfeit soccer balls make it through the United States as quickly as possible. He’ll have to obey speed limits to avoid police attention and he’ll have to use default routes generated by Google Maps as a proxy because he’s unfamiliar with the dangerous U.S. territory he will cover.

At first I wanted to set up a matrix. I intended to calculate both the distance and time between every U.S. border crossing with Canada and Mexico. I abandoned that when I counted 117 Canadian and 47 Mexican possibilities (117 X 47 = 5,499 combinations, both for time and distance). As much as I enjoy and respect the 12MC audience, it’s not productive for me to calculate 10,998 different numbers simply to determine the absolutely minimal times and distances. I took some educated guesses instead. It’s possible that others may improve upon these marginally, and perhaps even meaninfgully.

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Residents of Vancouver, British Columbia probably have it the best. Traveling via the Douglas, BC crossing to the Tijuana (West) crossing in Baja California would take 22 hours and 43 minutes over a distance of 2,223 kilometres (1,381 miles). That’s less than a day! Also, now that we realize Google Maps overestimates travel times, one could probably shave another hour or two from that figure with continuous driving and make it to the safety of the Mexican border posthaste.

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I wondered if I could discover a shorter Pacific Coastal route. The original one swings out to the west albeit it takes complete advantage of an efficient and swiftly-moving Interstate 5. Would a shorter route, one more closely aligned with a line of longitude make a difference? Actually, no. I replicated the exercise starting from the Paterson, BC border crossing instead. Oddly, it was both longer and less timely. Examining the map (above) it seemed to unfold this way because of the wobbly nature of obscure roads selected for the trip. Notice several jogs east and west that increased the total distance (2,305 km / 1,432 mi) and time (25 hours).

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There was another route. It surprised me how closely it challenged the Pacific Coastal route, although it wouldn’t benefit many Canadians. Maybe residents of Regina, Saskatchewan could use it. Otherwise it’s fairly remote from population centers. This one ran from the Oungre, SK border crossing to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the Bridge of the Americas crossing. Google maps predicts that the U.S. transit would cover 2,220 km (1,379 mi), over 23 hours 18 minutes. See what I mean? Three kilometers shorter although 45 minutes longer.

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Finally I attempted a diagonal route, taking advantage of the southern boundary dip following the contours of the Great Lakes. It’s a little longer (2,596 km / 1,402 mi) and couldn’t be done in a single day (27 hours). However, potentially, many more Canadians could take advantage of it due to its relative proximity to Toronto and Montréal. This one goes from Windsor, Ontario to Piedras Negras, Coahuila.

The worst option? It’s probably Campobello Island, NB to Tijuana (West). That’s 5,438 km (3,379 mi) over 55 hours (map).

Hopefully this will offer plenty of options for my Canadian draft-dodging soccer ball smuggler.

Infrequent Crossings, US-Canada

On June 28, 2012 · 6 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle loves its borders, and probably none more than the border between Canada and the United States (for instance). The statistics are impressive: 119 border crossings; 39,254,000 trips by Canadians into the United States in 2009; and nearly $500 million in international trade passing every day on the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan.

Those are great. I rather enjoy examining the other end of the spectrum even more. Not every crossing can be as popular as the Ambassador Bridge. What about some of the lesser-known ports of entry? Fortunately the U.S. Department of Transportation funds a Bureau of Transportation Statistics deep within the bowels of its bureaucracy, which offers a convenient Border Crossing/Entry Data website. Let’s take a peek.

First thing, I noticed that it’s difficult to determine which crossing might be the least popular. Should I count people, vehicles, cargo containers, or what? I decided to select a few choice categories and let them stand on their own rather than force apples-to-oranges scenarios. All figures were compiled from the perspective of the United States government for the year 2011.

It’s important to note that these are all the lowest non-zero values. Most ports of entry lack train traffic as an example. Zero values were excluded from my search.

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Fewest Trains (25th place) – Calais, Maine International Avenue / New Brunswick. This border crossing recorded 77 trains. There are train tracks in the immediate area although I can’t seem to find where they cross the border. Does anyone know how this works? Does the train cross elsewhere and then check-in at Calais because that’s the closest location that’s staffed by border officials? Why did they record so few trains?

Fewest Train Passengers (25th place) – Laurier, Washington / Cascade, British Columbia. This is why it’s so difficult to draw comparisons between categories or in aggregate. One would expect a correlation between trains and train passengers, however that overlooks the simple fact that many trains haul freight exclusively. Thus the place with the fewest cross-border train passengers traversing the border takes place on the other side of the North American continent.

Fewest Trucks (79th place) – Ferry, Washington / Midway, British Columbia. A grand total of three trucks crossed there in 2011. That’s one truck every four months. I imagine that this would be a very poor choice for a smuggler. Trucks are so rare that it’s an event. I bet customs agents scrutinize them intensely just to have an opportunity to do something a little different. It’s not hard to see why trucks don’t generally pass through here. It’s a little out the way and several larger, more truck-friendly roads cross the border to the east and west.

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Fewest Buses (3-way tie for 64th place) – Pinecreek, Minnesota / Piney Manitoba, Bridgewater, Maine / Centreville, New Brunswick, and Hannah, North Dakota / Snowflake, Manitoba. Each of these locations recorded a single bus. That’s right, only one bus passed each of these locations in all of 2011.

I wonder if this included a bus full of geo-oddity tourists on the way to see the bi-national airport runway at Pinecreek?

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Fewest Pedestrians (43rd place) – Noonan, North Dakota / Estevan, Saskatchewan. Seriously, I’d love to know the story behind the single pedestrian who crossed here. Just look at the Street View image. It’s remote. It’s empty. Why would anyone be walking through here and where would they be going?

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Fewest Personal Vehicles (85th place) – Whitlash, Montana / Aden, Alberta. This might be my favorite proxy measure for the least popular border crossing. Passenger vehicles are by far the most common way to cross between the two nations. Only 656 used Whitlash in an entire year. Two per day. Wow. I’d probably cross here if I were in the area just to inflate their statistics.

Foreshadowing. I’ll perform a similar exercise on the U.S. – Mexico border in the next installment.

Totally Unrelated. Remember Pinwheel? I just received another batch of invitations for their private beta. Let me know if you’d like one and I’ll send it to an email address of your choice.

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