What he first noticed about Detroit and therefore America was the
smell. Almost as soon as he walked off the plane, he caught it: an
acrid odor of wood ash. The smell seemed to go through his nostrils
and take up residence in his head. In Sweden, his own country, he
associated this smell with autumn, and the first family fires of winter, the smoke chuffing out of chimneys and settling familiarly over
the neighborhood. But here it was mid-summer, and he couldn't see
On the way in from the airport, with the windows of the cab open
and hot stony summer air blowing over his face, he asked the driver
"You're smelling Detroit," the driver said.
Anders, who spoke very precise school English, thought that perhaps he hadn't made himself understood. "No," he said. "I am sorry.
I mean the burning smell. What is it?"
The cab driver glanced in the rearview mirror. He was wearing a
knitted beret, and his dreadlocks flapped in the breeze. "Where you
The driver nodded to himself. "Explains why," he said. The cab
took a sharp right turn on the freeway and entered the Detroit city
limits. The driver gestured with his left hand toward an electronic
signboard, a small windowless factory at its base, and a clustered
group of cramped clapboard houses nearby. When he gestured, the
cab wobbled on the freeway. "Fire's here most all the time," he said.
"Day in and day out. You get so you don't notice. Or maybe you get
so you do notice and you like it."
"I don't see any fires," Anders said.
Feeling that he was missing the point somehow, Anders decided