Tales from Route 375 – Smelly Tomato and the Vine-Ripened Breath

There are a million stories originating in the cramped, sweaty confines of the Route 375 commuter bus. Some bring about smiles and laughter. Some bring about tears and pain. And some make you wish you knew how to build a time machine so you could go back to college, make yourself pay more attention in Econ 101, get a higher-paying job, and not have to ride the fucking bus in the first place.

Like I say, a million stories.

What you’re about to read is the story — via timeline — of Smelly Tomato and the Vine-Ripened Breath. It is a story of one man’s 43-minute battle with his senses.

[The following timeline is an approximation of the minute-by-minute torture forced upon me by a vengeful God intent on punishing me for not attending church regularly.]

4:43 pm
I enter the Route 375 bus completely bushed. My work day was no different than any other, but for some reason, I feel fatigued beyond belief. A few pages of my book, the comforting hum of the bus motor, and perhaps a nap should provide just the cure needed for whatever it is that ails me.

4:46 pm
As we pull up to the second stop in the 375’s downtown pick-up route, I see an unruly throng of people anxiously scrambling to get on the once-quiet, calm bus. My foolish hopes for a relaxing ride home are rightfully dashed.

4:47 pm
Smelly Tomato enters the bus and sits his beige-suit-wearing ass down in the seat next to me. An odor resembling that of the innards of a ripe tomato seems to be coming from his general direction. I can’t tell if it’s his breath or his body odor, but I’m hardly a fan. Truth be told, it’s wouldn’t be all that terrible a smell if you’re dining at an Italian bistro. Tomatoes have their place, to be sure. Unfortunately, I’m on a bus. Not a bus that moonlights as an Italian bistro on the weekends, but a regular old commuter bus.

4:48 pm
In a somewhat violent fashion, Smelly Tomato readjusts himself in his seat, as if to say “My ass is going to be best friends with every last inch of this seat, and fuck you if you don’t like it.” Honestly, I kinda like the smell of tomatoes. The fact that this guy smells of them, though, is a little off-putting.

4:49 pm
Case solved. It’s his breath. Smelly Tomato lets out a big sigh, indicating that his day on the job was a rough one. His breath smells even worse that the original tomato scent. It is obvious that he has recently eaten either a bushel basket full of tomatoes or another food item that has successfully taken on the smell of a bushel basket full of tomatoes. I’m thinking this could be the tomato equivalent of the alien entity from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Whatever the cause, the smell has me on the precipice of a full-on gag.

4:50 pm
Ever the lover of technology and all that it can offer humankind, Smelly Tomato reaches into his pocket and pulls out his iPhone. With the dexterity of Tom Cruise in Minority Report, he whisks icons left and right, types out a 439-word text, and reads sixteen Wall Street Journal articles, all in the time it takes me to unlock my phone. The tomato smell has not yet abated.

4:52 pm
Smelly Tomato sees a coworker board the bus. As his peer walks past him, Smelly Tomato smiles and recites some clichéd greeting, to which the coworker politely acknowledges before continuing on his way. The unnecessary, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at small-talk on Smelly Tomato’s part has released more of his putrid tomato breath into the air. I wish the hippie wannabe in the row in front of us would start his ponytail on fire. At this point, even burnt hair would serve as an acceptable potpourri option.

4:54 pm
Smelly Tomato reaches into a laptop bag I assume is filled with over- and under-ripened tomatoes and removes a book. As he opens the book to the previously bookmarked page, I notice that he is reading a large-print book. The letters printed upon each page are between ten to twelve feet tall. The first page I spy looks to have three words on it. The second page, maybe four. The man who only moments ago was manhandling miniature print on his smartphone is now relegated to reading a book meant for elderly widows not wanting to let go of their love of books.

4:55 pm
A second tomato sigh. I want to punch his soul.

4:56 pm
I open my book. Perhaps the written word will distract my peripheral senses from the smells happening around me.

4:56:30 pm
Is it me, or is Smelly Tomato’s breath causing my vision to go blurry?

4:57 pm
Increasingly annoyed by Smelly Tomato’s large-print book and noxious sighs, I decide to put my book down, close my eyes and attempt to catch a quick nap.

4:57:30 pm
Can’t think of anything but tomatoes. Huge fucking tomatoes.

4:58 pm
Blind people aren’t full of shit after all. When your sight is taken off the board, you’re other senses become amplified. Closing my eyes to take a nap may not have been the best idea.

4:59 pm
Having abandoned my nap, I decide to look out the window at the passing scenery. The goal of this exercise is two-fold. First, I am hoping that the roadside garbage and view of the gang initiations taking place outside the Cedar-Riverside projects will cause my sense of sight to temporarily occupy all other senses, including that of smell. Second, the most basic of scientific principles reinforce my theory that facing my nose in the opposite direction as Smelly Tomato’s gaseous mouth opening will reduce the overall exposure to his veggie breath.

4:59:15 pm
Yeah, I know a tomato is technically a fruit, but I’m going with “veggie breath.” Let’s try to keep our focus, okay?

5:02 pm
Staring out the window makes me drowsy, causing me to reconsider my first abandoned attempt at bus napping. I lean my head against the bus window, close my eyes, and attempt to drift into a commuter coma.

5:03 pm
It is really amazing how much this guy smells like the inside of a fucking tomato!

5:05 pm
Smelly Tomato has decided to join in on a conversation taking place between three Chatty McChattersons. For those uninitiated to the perils of bus commuting, Chatty McChattersons are the universally reviled dipshits that exist on every commuter bus to fill the relative peace and quiet of a long ride home with their inane conversation. Typically between the ages of 40-55 and with voices straight out of the Fran Drescher school of intonation, these dregs of society apparently have no life to speak of, but still insist on speaking of it anyway. They still haven’t made an iPod with a volume setting loud enough to drown out the Chatty McChattersons.

5:06 pm
Wonderful. Smelly Tomato’s insertion into the Chatty McChattersons’ conversation has the unintended consequence of allowing more tomato smell to escape his mouth between statements.

5:07 pm
Do you think that the migrant workers on tomato farms revile the smell and taste of the fruit (there, you happy?) they pick on a daily basis? I have to imagine that’s the case. My mom used to work in a bakery when she was a teenager, and after a while she couldn’t stand the smell of the donuts made on a daily basis. I suppose it’s only natural. Regardless, I hope this guy never strikes up a conversation with a disgruntled tomato picker. Otherwise, he’ll be reading his crazy-ass big-print books while in traction.

5:10 pm
It’s been a couple of minutes since I’ve smelled tomato. Perhaps the root cause of the smell has been lessened by the Smelly Tomato’s digestive system. Perhaps he has slipped in a mint while I wasn’t paying attention. Perhaps he is dead and has thus stopped breathing altogether!

5:11 pm
It’s back.

5:12 pm
The tomato smell has somehow transformed into a slightly deformed version of its former self. It now has a somewhat diluted Ragu smell. Okay, I made that up. The tomato smell is back, though. The whole Ragu thing was a fun distraction.

5:14 pm
I’m resigned to the fact that this may kill me. That’s not to say that the smell will directly cause my death on a physiological level. Rather, I’m fairly positive that being exposed to this smell for much longer will draw out such an evil from within my soul that I will start randomly stabbing people with the lid from the generic disposable Tupperware container in my bag. Not sure, but I might be a little cranky at the moment.

5:16 pm
Luckily, the bus driver is making great time today. He must smell it too. Whatever the reason, there’s a distinct possibility that I will offer to give the driver a no-hands sponge bath if he can get me away from Smelly Tomato even one minute earlier than would normally be the case.

5:20 pm
I just realized that I should be thanking God that Smelly Tomato isn’t actually Smelly Green Pepper. That would be the worst!

5:22 pm
I can see the Park & Ride parking lot from my window! It’s the most beautiful vision I have ever seen! Keep in mind, I once saw a newborn unicorn fly through a waterfall at sunset while a super-hot lesbian painted its picture on her super-hot girlfriend’s naked breasts. Pales in comparison to what I’m seeing now.

5:24 pm
We’re pulling up to the curb!

5:25 pm
The bus driver opened the door! The bus driver opened the door!

5:26 pm
Smelly Tomato stands up, spouts some cursory farewells to the Chatty McChattersons, and makes his way towards the exit. I follow. With each step, the fresh air that works its way in through the front door of the bus gains a stronger foothold on my sense of smell. Smelly Tomato will soon be but a distant memory.

5:26:30 pm
As many commuters do, Smelly Tomato says “thank you” to our driver, smiles, and steps off the bus. His last gasp of tomato breath wreaks havoc no more. It is but a distant memory. I am free.

It should be noted that Smelly Tomato works at Target Corporate. The above-mentioned account of his bad breath in no way reflects the overall breath quality standards of Target or the company’s investors. Rather, it represents an isolated incident involving and individual with poor breath awareness. Please do not adjust your shopping habits based upon anything you have read here.

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