Scents and sensibility in Toledo, Ohio
Visiting my hometown of Toledo over the holidays (Covid safely), I was reminded how this formerly great American city stands at a crossroads, real and metaphorically, between:
· New York and Chicago if you take I-80/90 which skirts Cleveland;
· Bitter college football rivals Ohio State and University of Michigan whose fans convene in Toledo on game days to overdrink;
· Republicans and Democrats, who are roughly split (51% Biden; 47% Trump), so presidential candidates always grub for votes in Northwestern Ohio;
· America’s past and future industry, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and economy.
I experienced Toledo’s crossroads first-hand:
· On I-80 then I-80/90 after Pennsylvania, on the flat, featureless farm plains of northern Ohio, only coming upon Toledo broke my existential angst, ennui and Weltschmerz, although I was too numb to be anxious, bored or world-weary. This only would have worsened if I had fallen asleep behind the wheel, passed Toledo and woke in Indiana.
· The Christmas Day gift exchange involved a U of M tee-shirt. I couldn’t tell if the gift was meant to be an awesome burn, given how Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh have become pathetic loser jokes like Dan Snyder and his NFL no-name “Washington Football Team.”
· The political views were as divided as Toledo and America are. One dinner guest vented about Trump. Another vented about AOC.
I wasn’t so anxious to talk politics because as a Washingtonian, I swim in that every day. Most of all, it was Christmas Eve and I was sleepy from my cousin’s amazing dinner and my overpoured Cabernet.
I also got to learn about a specific way my hometown was cross-roading from the Industrial Age to the Entrepreneurial Age.
In its heyday, Toledo was the Glass Capital of the World. Home of Jeep. Supplier of auto parts such as Champion spark plugs and Bendix brakes.
As Detroit ailed, so did Toledo. An Italian conglomerate, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, now owns Jeep. (Hey — we freed Italy in WWII with the help of Jeeps; Italy’s just returning the favor by keeping Jeep alive.)
But today, rising from the ashes of its industrial past, a new Toledo is being born.
For instance, did you know Toledo has become the Jan-San Capital of the World?
Jan-San stands for Janitorial Sanitation. You know — industrial cleaning, disinfectants, sanitizers, hand soaps, etc. — all even more important given the Covid and our newfound respect for germaphobia.
Apparently Toledo is now to public restroom sanitation what New York is to the arts, culture, finance and irritating tourists. What Los Angeles is to movies and big-shot sexual predators. What Chicago is to commerce, deep-dish pizza and urban gun deaths. What Paris is to light, buttery, flaky croissants and arrogance running on fumes. What DC is to politics and presidential nastiness, narcissism, self-dealing, sore losing and pardoning of convicted compatriots.
I learned about Toledo’s Jan-San global leadership first-hand from a guest at Christmas Day dinner, also lavishly hosted by my cousin.
The guest is a top executive of a leading urinal screen manufacturer in Toledo. Our conversation was both enlightening and fascinating. I’m not being snide. I didn’t care if our talk would have cleared the Christmas table.
For the untutored, most urinal screens, which initially were designed to keep cigarette butts and other discards from clogging the urinal drains, now contain a “urinal cake” to kill bacteria and deodorize. Beery men at bars honor them with a robust stream. Some urinal screens even have pictures of Trump and other reviled figures to aim upon.
The active ingredient in traditional urinal cakes is para-dichlorobenzene, or PDB, which is also found in mothballs. I’m no bug scientist, but I’m guessing PDB dissolves male moth “balls,” making them disinterested in romance and the subsequent larvae.
Three problems arise with PDB urinal cakes:
1. They’re unhealthy: PDBs cause cancer in animals and traces show up in humans.
2. They’re disgusting: PDB cakes vaporize when you hotly pee on them, so you’re literally huffing a petrochemical mixed with urine — yours and that of everyone who went before you.
3. They stink: The traditional sicky-sweet urinal cake scent is called “mango.” Even though it doesn’t smell like the mangos we enjoy on Caribbean cruise line breakfast buffets before rampant dysentery ensues.
Maybe real American Cracker Barrel diners don’t notice or care about the offensive smell, urine inhaling or potential cancer from traditional urinal cakes. But elitist coastal Democrat Socialist costly restaurants featuring Architectural Digest restrooms do care.
So along comes my Toledo Christmas dinner friend.
To borrow from Robert F. Kennedy, some urinal cake makers see things as they are — unhealthy and unpleasant — and ask why? But this Steve Jobs of Sanitary Public Plumbing Fixtures dreamed of a delightful experience while relieving oneself and asked, why not?
And so, he patented a range of mouth-watering urinal cake scents, from herbal mint to green apple, kiwi grapefruit and cinnamon stick.
“What’s your favorite scent?” I asked. “Vanilla coconut,” he replied.
He’s also working on making urinal cakes safer by replacing PDBs with new anti-bacterial options.
“What about anti-viral?” I asked. “You mean because of Covid?” he replied, indulging my ignorance. “Sure. That’s next.”
Ah, Toledo. As you go, so goes America.
And gents, next time you go in a public restroom, don’t forget to stop and smell the urinal cake. If you smell roses, you can thank Toledo.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.