By Meghan Barr
NEW YORK — All across America, men gave their sweethearts flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day. Michael Jennings gave his girlfriend something more memorable, if less fragrant: a tour of a Brooklyn sewage plant.
Love was not the only thing in the air Tuesday as about 100 people ventured out to the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant for a free guided tour that was billed by the city as an “unforgettable” way to celebrate the most romantic day of the year.
Proving, as the song says, that love stinks, the couples got a big whiff of something, and it wasn’t flowers or fine perfume.
“I told her it wasn’t going to be like something romantic,” said a grinning Jennings, who sprang the tour on girlfriend Nitisha Rawlings as a surprise. “I mean, it is. It’s very beautiful.”
She seemed to be getting a kick out of the experience.
The complex is the largest of New York City’s 14 sewage treatment plants, processing 1.5 million gallons of waste every day. The city gives tours once a month to show off its odor-control technology; this time, tour day fell on Valentine’s Day.
To mark the holiday, plant workers set out red and pink bins filled with Hershey’s chocolate kisses for the visitors to snack on as they learned about things like sludge.
The tour began with an hour-long slideshow on how the city has disposed of waste over the past century. Then the group peeked inside the control rooms and ascended to the top of the “digester eggs” — futuristic-looking stainless-steel globes where the waste is processed.
The couples laughed nervously when Jim Pynn, the plant’s enthusiastic superintendent, called out: “Is anyone going to propose today? This is the most romantic part of the tour.” Nobody was willing to go quite that far.
“You’re going to smell a little bit of the gas,” Pynn said as he lifted a vent at the top of a digester egg. “It’s going to be foul. But it smells like what natural gas smells like.”
As predicted, the area soon began to smell like rotten egg.
“Very stinky,” said 6-year-old Blake Hewitt, who wrinkled his nose.
That didn’t seem to bother the visitors, who were too busy taking photographs of the panoramic view of the city.
Eliza Wierzbinska had dragged along her boyfriend, Daniel Gunter, because she wanted to do something out of the box this year. He happily obliged.
“It’s an idea of something fun to do together,” he said, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. “And anytime we’re together, it is Valentine’s Day.”