A NYC Taxi Driver's Guide To Perfuming Your Car

A NYC Taxi Driver's Guide To Perfuming Your Car Hero Image
Photo: Twenty20

New York cabs are for kissing. Or shouting. Or both. And their insides serve as spurious ambassadors to the smells of the city. I rarely encounter a back seat that tickles my olfactory senses, until yesterday that is. I got into the car of a gentleman who imparted some serious sweet-smelling wizardry. It was all babies and antiseptic and rose. It was comforting and made me think of being a kid. I felt happy.

Scent is not an intellectual thing; it's a primal thing, and it makes you trust your instincts. Which is why when Mr. Taxi Driver told me that every day, before his shift starts he wipes his seats, door handles and upholstery with a mixture of rubbing alcohol, Pine-Sol, and rose water I trusted him. When he told me, "I never get sick anymore," with such glee, it was contagious (or I was high on the ethanol); it cemented my absolute faith in an absolute stranger.

Maybe he knew that if you want to lull your passengers into liking you, you may want to start spritzing your car, your joint and your person with fragrant offerings. One now famous 1997 study, for instance, showed that prosocial behavior, like picking up a dropped item from the floor, went up significantly when pleasant fragrances were in the air—rather than when air just smelled like air.

Researchers in the Netherlands led by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato did a study in how our responses to others depends not only on our relationships but also on environment. In the experiment entitled "lavender aroma promotes interpersonal trust," without being told about any change in scent in a room, when people smelled lavender, they gave significantly more money than when they had sniffed peppermint or nothing at all.

"Lavender has this effect because of its calming property," said study co-author Colzato. "This hypothesis is supported by the fact that, from an anatomical point of view, the olfactory nerve is connected to the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain region that 'controls' the way we trust others."

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The trust game is a test behavioral researchers use to measure levels of gospel truth (or maybe just confidence and faith). So what did I do? I ran to the nearest drugstore obviously, bought the Pine-Sol and rose water, and poured them into an empty water bottle to use on door handles, phones, and anything in need of disinfecting. Of course, me being me, I added some rose, geranium, and jasmine essential oils for a little kick.

Moral of the story? I'm always amazed at how smells can trigger the most intense, complex feelings and memories instantaneously. I'm blindsided every day, and I love it.

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