Despite efforts of restaurant owners diligently scrubbing their sidewalks every morning, the stink remains.
The stains from nightly drenchings marinate the porous cement and macadam until every pore is glazed over with a slick pungent goo.
It's garbage juice.
The garbage trucks that come around to pick up the black bags of food scraps from hundreds of restaurants, leave behind a toxic stew of fermented and rotting food mush as they crush and compact the bags in the back of their trucks with 15000 lbs of pressure. Every squeeze dribbles or vomits another load of who-knows-what.
The summer heat cooks the mess.
Stand too close to a garbage truck on its rounds and you'll be the unlucky recipient of a garbage juice shower as the muffled "pop" "pop" "pop" of black bags burst open and spray and arc of brown liquid.
There was a day when the City of New York would open fire hydrants, wash streets and even come around nightly with a street sweeper that wet down the streets while it scrubbed with hard rotary brushes every inch of gutter. No more. There were promises of a "Cleaner Chinatown" , promises of a more "tourist-friendly" environment from millions of dollars taken from Chinatown itself, but frankly I can't see it, and I certainly don't smell it.
These days when a street sweeper comes around , it's as though the smell offends even the driver, he speeds through as fast as he can, rendering the machinery useless.
And so, Chinatown and its residents, its businesses ,the oh-so-precious tourists are left to slog through the choking mist of summer garbage juice long after the ruptured bags have been scurried away in the dark of night.
The mystery remains though, in the light of day. "What the **** is that smell!?!?" you hear it over and over again. Who else can be "blamed" but the Chinese walking in the street?
Mayor Bloomberg and his high and mighty Board of Health stand proudly on their pedestals for having "successfully" installed the letter grading system for "some" but not all food establishments (delis that cook and serve food are mysteriously exempt). Ironically they would FAIL their own grading criteria for providing a dangerous and toxic environment for the residents of Chinatown. It's simply, there is no adequate cleaning of City owned streets in all of Chinatown.
So the next time you hear about how successful the "clean streets" program is, and how a Business Improvement District will "fast track" problems straight to City Hall,
walk through Chinatown in mid summer,
take a deep breath, (that's it both nostrils, no cheating)
- and smell the progress.