Backstory: Chocolate chipped

"...[a] chocolate chip cookie scent [was] placed in five bus shelters in the city as part of a marketing campaign by the California milk industry to promote its product." San Francisco Chronicle, 12/5/06

My nostrils began to twitch as my nose and I approached the bus shelter. The thought of the rich, warm aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies was making me salivate so much I had to dab my chin.

As I got closer, I could see the smiles on the faces of the people sniffing in the shelter. My taste buds shook with anticipation.

And then I got there, nose atwitter and ... it's so difficult to say this ... but there was no delectable aroma. No, the scent was, I shudder to say, oatmeal raisin. Oatmeal raisin? That disgustingly healthy cookie little Katie Hoogenakker would bring to nursery school on snack day?

I ran from the shelter trying to wipe away the memory of blackstrap molasses and steel-cut oats. I was ready to give up and go to work. But wait. Was it a mirage? No, the sweet smell of success was in view. Another bus shelter was just a block away. I started to sprint.

I looked to my side and noticed a well-dressed man puffing alongside me. Was it the president of the bank I dealt with? Yes.

"Running for the bus?" I asked.

"Bus?" he sneered. "Don't be ridiculous. It's the gingersnap smell I'm running for."

"Gingersnaps?"

"Uh-huh, the rumor is they just changed the smell strip from chocolate chip to gingersnaps. I love gingersnaps. My nanny always made me gingersnaps when I flunked an algebra test."

I watched forlornly as the man used his briefcase to smite three people on the way to his childhood memories. I considered going home to pout. But then a dozen people ran past me. I knew by their upturned noses that these were fellow cookie sniffers. Tentatively, I called out: "chocolate chip?"

They responded as one. "Twelfth and Market," they yelled, pointing their noses in that direction.

And so we ran, our noses on high alert. As we got closer, I could see a crowd surrounding the shelter. It had to be chocolate chip. What other cookie could draw that many people? Shortbread? Too Scottish. Almond? Too Chinese. It had to be the king of cookies.

We sprinted the last block, sniffing in unison. And then we were there. I opened my nostrils to their fullest and inhaled ...

"Nuts?"

"Walnuts," a happy voice intoned.

"But," I protested, "I like my chocolate chip cookies without nuts."

The crowd ignored me as it sniffed away. I stood there brokenhearted as one, two, three buses came and went without anyone boarding.

Distraught, I took a handkerchief out of my pocket and blew my nose. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. A voice whispered in my ear: "24th and Mission. No nuts on 24th and Mission."

Nostrils aflare, I set off. As I ran, I thought: Who needs to go to work when you can smell a chocolate chip cookie, without nuts, baking away?

"What was billed as a pleasing alternative to exhaust fumes at San Francisco bus stops ended after officials Tuesday ordered the removal of advertisements that gave off the scent of baked cookies." Reuters, 12/5/06

Chuck Cohen, an advertising writer, bemoans that he can no longer smell his favorite cookies in bus shelters 20 minutes from his Mill Valley, Calif., home.

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