Opinion

Charles: Tuning out unnecessary noise

A few years and a couple of cars ago, my horn stopped working. Who knew that a car horn works by fuse?

Anyway, between the time my mechanic could order the part and the time I could get in to have him fix it, I discovered something: we use our car horns waaaaaay more than necessary.

When your car horn doesn’t work, you (eventually) substitute patience. You learn not to automatically go to DEFCON 1 every time the light changes and the car in front of you doesn’t spring into the intersection. You don’t blast the person who slowly makes his/her way across the street, dumbly staring into his/her cell phone. You don’t lean on your steering wheel because the idiot on your right or left suddenly swerved in front of you, making you hit the brakes. It’s not that you don’t want to. You just — can’t.

So you suffer in silence. And later you might figure out all that mashing, blasting and honking doesn’t alleviate your frustration, it actually adds to it.

Case in point: Earlier this week, I turned the corner onto Munroe Street on the way into the office. Three cars ahead was a UPS van, which was positioned alongside a huge delivery truck. Now, since there’s a rather complicated construction event going on, part of the street is already down to one lane. The two delivery vehicles just made movement impossible, at least until the guys with the carts finished their work.

Now, granted, the car that turned the corner right behind me couldn’t see why traffic was stalled. But that didn’t stop the horn from blasting, loud and long. Guess what? Nothing moved. The guys who were blocking access undoubtedly already knew they were, and apparently weren’t motivated by the frustrated driver five or six cars back to move any faster.

Which means that whole horn thing was unnecessary noise. We eventually all got down the street anyway and the frustrated driver had been waiting for an even shorter time than the rest of us.

I remember when my sister’s kids were little and I would go visit. They lived in a loud place with a lot of loud people and I would drive home and not even turn on the radio, I so needed the peace and quiet. When you’re single and live alone, your noise tolerance varies. Now some people always have to have sound — the television, or radio, or music, is always on. Others don’t turn on anything if we’re not actively listening.

But here’s the thing.

We’re almost always bombarded with noise, whether we want to be or not. If you go to any sporting event, there’s constant, ear-splitting assault to your senses. I like to get hyped for a good game; I was a sports writer and then a sports copy editor for decades. But I am a little bit of a purist (OK, maybe snob). After a good play, I want to turn to my seat companion and talk about it and cheer. I don’t need the PA announcer at 10 million decibels telling us to MAKE SOME NOISE! I don’t care about the walk-up music for every batter, the theme song for every moment. I actually can enjoy sports for sports’ sake.

But that’s not who we are anymore.

I recently noticed that we can’t get by without sensory overload. I bemoaned to my husband recently that there are few nice restaurants that don’t have loud televisions going.

Last week we met another couple for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in almost two years, what with life getting in our way, so we were excited to catch up with our fellow empty-nesters and tell what our respective spawns were up to in college.

We picked a nice place, the food was excellent, and the atmosphere was fine — except it was a tad loud. There were TVs over the bar (a game was on), and although we were in the dining section away from the area, the din made it a bit difficult to hear until the place mercifully cleared out a little.

Now, I know I sound like a crabby old lady, but really, I just enjoy catching up with old friends without having to shout to be heard or having the predominant word in the conversation be “what?”

And still, that’s not the worst of it.

We are addicted to being tuned in to the most unnecessary of noises from our electronic devices. I know, I know, this argument has been made ad nauseam. Even I won’t take the dog for a walk without arming myself with the ability to listen to my podcasts.

What I don’t do is force everyone else to listen alongside me.

Why is it suddenly OK to use your speaker phone everywhere? We might despair that everyone is wearing earpods and trapped in their own little world, thereby staying physically close but socially and emotionally disconnected. But let me tell you, loud talkers of the world, I don’t want to hear your conversation as you hold your phone aloft and shout into it while blocking my path.

We could all use a little less noise.

Maybe we wouldn’t be so tense, so crabby, if we maintain a little radio silence every once in awhile.

A few years ago, we took a trip to Big Sky country, visiting states and places my Boston native spouse had never seen. At one point we found a place in a state park with no cell towers, no electrical wires. We turned off the car engine, stepped out and heard — absolutely nothing.

It was the weirdest, eeriest, most wonderful sensation.

On days when the news is all bad (and when isn’t it?) and it seems like we’re all shouting and angry and leaning on our horns in frustration, I long to go back — just for a moment — to that sound of complete silence.

Sometimes the idea sounds as scary as the tomb. And sometimes it sounds like heaven.

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