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A Reader Writes by Jim Shinn: The smell of money?

April 09, 2002

We know the color of money is green, but how about the smell of money? I'll answer that shortly.

Well, having grown up in the Valley, it has many smells. There are two distinct smells that stand out from my childhood. One is the smell of manure. When a rancher would move a herd, or if you drive

within a mile or so of a feed yard, "phew" would often be a response to the pungence.

Another aroma was the nitrogen plant. You youngsters may not remember, but it was on the southeast side of El Centro. I seemed to notice it more at night, and it was like God came in and cleaned the southeast side of El Centro with ammonia, Windex or some such chemical.

Many people were riled by these reeks, but they never bothered me. Maybe I'm nasally challenged, or growing up and sharing a bedroom with four brothers, I somehow became desensitized to foul odors.

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Whatever. As I matured, I was lucky enough to get a job delivering fruits and vegetables to all the small- to medium-size grocery stores in the Valley. Beginning at 11 p.m., our truck would set out and visit all the towns, from Niland to Calexico through Holtville until sunrise.

I frequently delighted in the dawns, but I also became exposed to other odors. During the late spring and summer months, Holly Sugar, would be belching out its sugar beet-processing breath, and to this day you can not escape it as you drive Highway 86. I really didn't dislike it, but again I would never have chose it as a cologne.

Time passed and I grew into a college-graduated, underemployed adult, willing to do whatever work, which brought me to the geothermal industry. I only had a chance to work three weeks but the pay was great as I checked temperatures and pressures of the blistering hot brine being pumped out of the ground. Again, a very hot, salty, mineral smell, but part of it I know was my own sweat working in the extreme conditions of the Imperial Valley summer.

I have had many jobs, requiring driving around the Imperial Valley. Often I have smelled the recent application of insecticides/herbicides bringing death to pestilence and purposeless plants. That is a smell I don't really want to develop tolerance for, wanting to live as long as possible on this planet.

But those funky smells lead to the fragrance of recently cut alfalfa or a broccoli harvest. Whatever the smell, they are all the smell of money. Depending upon your position on the political spectrum, these are either the aromas of jobs and economic development or the pursuit of profit over the public interest. Whatever.

I have not been there and done that … I mean I have yet to smell the beef-packing plant. My guess is that is probably another funky smell of money. As a longtime resident of the I.V., when I think of smells, I think of the people and their families who have benefited from the smell.

Recently, our unemployment rate came to be the lowest that I can ever remember. That smells good to me, since I work with kids and families and I witness the grief and deprivation caused by poverty and unemployment.

I really hope and believe

they will solve the smell problem at our own little cow palace. They probably will, but it won't be too soon for those who live within whiffing distance.

Just a few closing thoughts. We should take note of our situation and take advantage of it. I doubt if they exist, but I would like to see two committees formed.

The first is to develop a research center for maintaining and improving air quality, involving a respiratory disease section. This is our own "stank think tank!" Working around children and families, I am concerned about the addition of new smells to growing and developing noses and lungs.

Secondly, we should try to attract stinky industries. See, we already have experienced the fiscal benefits of funky fragrances, why not cash in on it? We already have so many strange scents. It makes sense to generate cents from the scents.

Our other committee could do industrial research, and if it is an industry with a smell, we give them the hard sell to relocate here. We have a university to do the research and each new business will be a problem-solving opportunity.

This all may not make sense to you, but if we indeed are one of the smelliest places on the planet, we should maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. This will only happen with a proactive approach. Or we could just sit around and have whine with no bouquet.

>> JIM SHINN is an El Centro resident and counselor at De Anza Junior High in Calexico.

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