It happened again today. One of the buses I'm used to riding every day in the retirement community where I live burst into flames. Fortunately, only the driver was in the bus at the time. And he got out unscathed. Eerily, another bus I could have been on broke into flames just a few months ago. There were about 10 elderly people, some with walkers and canes, on the bus. That time, the flames were slower and everyone got off the bus safely.
Before it was cleared away, I went to look at today's burned out bus. I couldn't see the hood of the bus. "It was fiberglass and just melted," I was told. The skeleton of the seat frames where I surely have sat in the 4 years I've been riding the buses were naked, stark, and very depressing. I could smell the burned out hulk. It reminded me that, after a fall in 2009, the only smell that my nose recognizes is burning — not the smell of chocolate, nor the delight of coffee, nor the fragrance of any flowers. Except for the smell of burning, I can only smell by memory.
Way before 2009, I was able to smell things like a normal person. I associated a burning smell with magical starlit nights watching a campfire while camping. The first time I was really aware of an unpleasant burning smell was when my car was bombed. I was a Jewish community worker living in an Israeli-Arab town when the Intifada of 1988 started. My wonderful leafy green car was one of the Intifada's victims. One night while the town slept, gas was poured over the front tires and ignited. I didn't wake up when the fire engines came. My neighbors woke me up to the unbelievable wreck of my car. The trunk was still in tact, so I took items out of it for safe keeping. Among other things, the electronic typewriter in the trunk never lost an odd smokey smell I hated.
And then there was the bus I had taken from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem the day before a terrorist grabbed the steering wheel and directed it over a cliff. It caught fire. Many died. I happened to be on the same road the day they pulled the burned out hulk up the cliff. It looked like the bus did today, only larger. And the smell of burning was strong.
I can't look at a picture of a crash like the one that killed 10 in California just this week without being aware of a smell of burning. Nor the photos on tv news of burned out cars in war torn countries. Will I ever be able to smell anything else ever again?