As I waited for my morning commute empowerment (also known as MARTA) along with a relatively small number of fellow riders, I was once again reminded that smell is one of the most powerfully evocative senses in the human repetoire. No, I’m not making some hygience or MARTA maintenance joke, I’m referring to very relaxed and casual looking fellow sitting about five feet from me. He nonchalantly took a toke off a conspicously small and ragged looking cigarette. It’s early in the morning so bear with me as my brain eventually connects the unmistakable aroma about .75 seconds later. To borrow a phrase from nukieuk‘s people, “My, but that’s cheeky.” What I found most interesting, however, was not the act itself but people’s reactions.

Of the handful of people near enough to witness what was going on (and near enough for me to gauge reactions):

  • My own… raised an eyebrow, brief flash of recognition, slight smirk and then a lot of internal dialogue and contemplation of the situation, accompanied by several recollections from the past.
  • Elderly woman… no reaction whatsover, eyes fixed on the direction MARTA would eventually be approaching from.
  • Forty-something guy in a suit… brief glance around, not so much at the smoker but in general, followed by by an almost imperceptible shrug before returning to his copy of the Wallstreet Journal.
  • Twenty-something guy with a bike… looks right at the guy, folds his lips inward wetting them, then looks away, strumming his fingers and tapping his feet to non-existant music.
  • Twenty-something woman in club wear… stares incredulously at the smoker for quite a while while cocking her head at an angle. Eventually resorts to fiddling with her phone.

At no point did anyone move away or towards or comment vocally whatsover.

The smoker finished all but a tiny portion of his “cigarette”, pinched it out between his thumb and index finger and tucked it away in his pants. Then, he proceeded to pull out a pack of brand cigarettes and light up. This evoked an entirely different set of reactions.

  • I instinctively moved upwind; my natural reaction when encountering tobacco smokers “in the wild”. My face probably showed clear annoyance, my other default reaction when I encounter tobacco smoke.
  • The elderly woman turned and glared at the smoker. She held her gaze until she was certain he’d seen her face.
  • The forty-something suit did not react at all. By this time he appeared deeply engrossed in some article in his paper.
  • The twenty-something guy with the bike moved as well, just as I had. He no longer strummed or tapped, but rather look impatient.
  • The twenty-something woman looked up briefly from her phone before fishing out her own cigarettes and lighter from her purse and lighting up.

Perhaps it was just me, but I felt that reactions were stronger during the second scenario than the first. What would have been your reaction?