My cell phone was apparently assembled at gunpoint by drunk Yugoslavians in the year 1984. The only way for it to receive any sort of discernible transmission within my house is for me to hold it about six inches above my left ear while I stand one foot on the toilet and one foot on the rim of the tub. Triumphantly perched as though I’d conquered all the porcelain in my house, I can talk to another party if I shout, and I can hear them if I strain my neck and focus my ear.
It’s a pretty poor system of communication, made only worse by the traffic, Weed Eaters, ice cream bells, and norteño music of my working-class neighborhood of Cherokee Point — a border section between North Park and City Heights, on University Avenue between the 805 and 15. If I’m in a fun and forgiving mood, I’ll describe my street as “lively” and “blue collar,” or “a rich tapestry of many cultures.” If I’m working, trying to watch a movie, or talking on my phone, and what keeps invading my home is the sound of someone lying across a work-truck horn, or a family ringing in a young lady’s 15th birthday with a band, chickens, and fireworks, then I call the place “the damn ghetto!” or simply “shithole!” My street is incredibly loud.
I get crabby at all the racket and sometimes come firing from my front door to confront the offending noisemaker. I’ve been dangerously close to being socked in the beak because I’ve demanded that someone shut off a car alarm or quiet (shoot if you have to!) a pack of baying dogs. Which seems like common sense to me, but the people of my neighborhood don’t perceive sound the way I do. I’ve run out of my apartment to request from parents that their children stop pitching pennies, glass bottles, and small rocks onto my tile roof, and we’ve all — me, the parents, the children — stood there dumbfounded by the others’ actions, our heads cocked to the side like puppies presented with math.
And I’ve lived in nearly every neighborhood in central and coastal San Diego. Same thing. Although, in my Pacific Beach youth, I was more likely the offender than the offended. Looking back, I clearly thought that stumbling home drunk by way of Garnet Avenue at 2:00 a.m. on a Wednesday and playing frenetic and brassy jazz records was a way of liberating the stuffy tenants of my apartment complex from the moorings of their conformity. Coltrane might agree with me, but find my old neighbors, and I’m sure they would hold a different opinion.
Which got me thinking I should go and look for the loudest and quietest areas of the city, to see if there is a neighborhood that respects silence. If I ever want to get any work done, I might have to move there.
First thing to do is buy a decibel meter. Not usually one for purchasing gadgets (see cell phone description above), for this experiment I want an objective electronic authority. So I drive to the sprawling big-box store called Fry’s. Normally, when confronted with vast aisles of wiring, cameras, circuitry, laptops, and televisions, I wander as though lost through a great plastic forest, until a sales executive finds me huddled over a trash fire, naked, bearded, and drinking the remnants of a discarded backwashed Pepsi for sustenance — so I am a shade hesitant to go inside this megalopolis of computing hardware. But this time, with incredible luck, I walk directly to the pertinent section of the store, find the decibel meter, pay at the front register, and walk out. Standing in the parking lot, I look at the sundial on my phone and calculate that I’ve been inside only seven minutes. Astonishing.
Armed with my new toy, I begin to take readings around my place, holding the meter an inch from anything making noise. My air conditioner: 44.3 dB. Running water in my sink: 64 dB. Having a piss: 75.1 dB.
I call my friend and sometime-assistant Casey at her dungeon, where I force her to slave over hot search engines and reference manuals, to tell her my findings.
“You’ve got some loud pee,” she says.
“If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…But that’s not why I’m calling. Do you know of any place in town that might be pretty loud?”
“Gay Pride Parade is this weekend.”
Sweet Molasses, the Mother Lode. (Bonus! Compact, half-naked, energetic Puerto Ricans.) But I have a couple days to kill before the festivities start, so maybe I’ll visit some neighborhoods around town to see how they measure up on bothersome sounds. I wonder how the City of San Diego classifies and attempts to abate noise pollution?
Well, as always, the city website is a jumble of legal information and horrid, boring garbage that I’ll attempt to summate. (Bear with me, this promises to get a little dry.) Our fair hamlet allows for construction, generator, animal, and machinery noise, and a whole list of other audible irritations, between 7:00 in the morning and 7:00 at night every day except Sunday and holidays. From sandiego.gov, I foxed out this oddly worded rule:
“It shall be unlawful for any person, between the hours of 7:00 p.m. of any day and 7:00 a.m. of the following day, or on legal holidays…with exception of Columbus Day and Washington’s Birthday, or on Sundays, to erect, construct, demolish, excavate…any building or structure in such a manner as to create disturbing, excessive or offensive noise unless a permit has been applied for and granted.…”
I’m sure that the intent of that statute isn’t to allow absolute anarchy — destroying any building you see fit, whether it belongs to you or not, with any means available, be it dynamite, chainsaw, or pack of horses — on Columbus Day and Washington’s Day, but that’s how I read it. What a way to perk up holidays normally associated with mattress and linen sales. Anyway, carrying on.…