Skip to content

Street Talk

Aroma Of Main Street Improved With Time

By Mickey Howley

If you were walking on Main Street last Friday night, and many were, you might have smelled a varied assortment of scents in the freshly rinsed air. Up at the north end of town there was the food coming from the various vendors at the Watermelon Carnival, and no matter your opinion on the health aspects of carnival food, it always has that sweet enticing smell of funnel cake.

Further down Main, coming from the oven stacks at Rounder’s Pizza, the smell of fresh bread with a touch of oregano wafted over the street. The smell of grilling onions and meat also drifted over from El Charitto. Not long after the fireworks went off, a whiff of burnt sulfur hung over the town. It was a pretty nice night to be out on the street, despite the hot and humid air.

If you are out on a night such as last Friday, you can get an idea of how it was before air conditioning came to town: people out on the street, traffic going by, everyone wanting to be outside on a summer evening.  I’m not saying that A/C is a bad thing; it has done wonders for the Southern and Southwestern parts of this country. Cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Tucson, have grown exponentially because of air conditioning.

Once it became as easy to stay cool as it was to stay warm, migration began to places with a more sunny and pleasant overall climate. Sixty years ago, nine of the top ten largest cities were in the north and east, now seven of the ten largest American cities are in the south and west. A/C has dramatically shifted the population concentration of this country.

In small towns all over the country, A/C changed the look of Main Streets: gone are the big cloth awnings, the balconies, the open transom windows, the wide and tall doors, the inner building-to-building passages. Buildings were converted over to A/C and sealed off in the process. Outside of the Main Street district, houses changed too. Ranch houses or mid-century moderns were the first houses designed with A/C in mind. Lower roofs, lower ceilings, smaller windows, and brick siding all to help A/C do its job of keeping you cool.

I don’t know what technology will come along and change the look and life of Main Street next. I often think of the story of an 1890s New York City planning report that had Manhattan overwhelmed by mountains of horse poop by 1920 if something was not done soon. Seems it was a daily issue to get the stuff out of town, and landfills were filling up. No one imagined that thirty years later the internal combustion motor and the rise of trucks would displace horses and make the manure issue moot. But you can bet something will come along and change how we relate to Main Street. And Main Street will respond to the technological challenges and changes and keep going through good times and bad.  Until that happens, step out on Main Street on a summer night for a stroll and take in the sights, sounds and yes, smells.

Leave a Comment