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Poring over more info on the site, I find that the city defines offenses of noise by a host of variables, according to zoning and time of day. Without delving into the fetishism of the city for under-thinking and over-printing, I’ll tell you that for most of us who don’t live on farms or in industrial zones, and for those who do not drive garbage trucks or fly helicopters, the loudest we citizens can get around our houses during the week is 60 dB during the day and 45 dB at night — from 10:00 p.m. till 7:00 in the morning. This is something that I soon find almost wholly ignored in my neighborhood.

To see if anyone in San Diego complies with these guidelines, I leave my apartment with my incredibly dorky-looking gadget and stroll around my neighborhood. What I learn first is that if you want to look like a huge goddamn doofus, carry a dB meter around with you. Mine is tan and boxy, sort of like a 1980s’ cell phone, but with a puffy microphone out the top of it that would only look stupider if it were clown-nose red.

Right away, I bumble upon a yard decorated eclectically with a pool table, broken plastic stackable furniture, and dog turds. From the house blares something that someone might consider music, I’m sure, although I can’t for the life of me understand why, because it features a crowing rooster, honking car horns, and a squeaky-voiced man who’s fond of the word “corazón.” Really, that’s pretty much every element of the song. It goes: “B-Gock! Honk! Honk! Something something corazón. B-Gock! Honk! Honk! Something something corazón!” and so forth.

I check my display to see that the flapping and fluttering speaker on the porch is punching out 79.5 dB. I’m about 15 feet away. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem overly loud, especially for this neighborhood and at this time of day: about noon. A man comes to the porch and over the din shouts, “Hey, what the hell are you doing?!” (84.4 dB)

“Nothing,” I say, and haul ass away from the tumbledown shack. A couple blocks away, I find myself comfortably out of earshot of that last racket and encompassed by the soothing tones of a leaf-blower and an irate dog barking and snapping at it about 60 yards away, which, from where I stand, register at 56.6 dB. That’s around the upper limit of allowable noise, and I’m a good block away. The leafman’s immediate neighbors are taking in a hell of a lot more, but again, it doesn’t seem too loud. The necessity of the yard work, and the idea that it will be all finished up in less than an hour or so, make it at least tolerable.

I figure I’m going to drive myself stupid by measuring how loud everything in my neighborhood is, so I find my trusty carriage, Lucille the Wondertruck, fire her up, and aim her toward a place with a quiet reputation. Ah, the suburbs.

On my drive to Poway, a suburb I picked randomly off Google maps, the concept of noise irritation really drives itself home; 91X and 94.9 play a constant marathon of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, and Pearl Jam. As if in the decades since any of those bands were relevant there weren’t hundreds of thousands of musical acts performing millions of songs. Nope. All Red Hot Sublime Jam, all the damn time. I flip over to Rock 105.3 to catch the start of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica, then check to see that NPR is playing recorded phone messages of retired Berkeley professors giving their shrillest birdcalls.

“Oh for the love of GOD!” I scream (76.5 dB) and hammer my fist into the steering wheel.

In a simple, average, unremarkable strip mall on Poway Road, I stop to purchase an iced tea from a corporate coffee shop. While standing in line, a teenage girl snaps her bubble gum and yaps on the phone, while the nice barista repeats her request a few times.

“How can I help you?”

“Mike is so-o-o stupid. He’s such an ass, I can’t.…”

“Hello, how can I help you?”

“I’ll take an iced tea,” I say over the girl’s head. She glares at me from the corner of her eye and says, “Excuse me, I was in line, rude much?”

Why, you dirty little bugger! This exchange isn’t loud, but it is irritating, and I want to stuff my dB meter down the yak hole of the awful young woman. Of course, I don’t. I don’t say anything to her, because I’m kind of a big sissy and don’t like confrontation, especially with girls. I just arch my brows and lean my head away, as if I were contemplating clouds, until she turns around to bark at the girl behind the counter.

Finally, iced tea in hand, I walk from the coffee shop out to the parking lot, accompanied by the soft thudding of car doors, rumble of plumbing-truck engines, and blathering of kids, and I embark Lucille the Pickup Truck of Wonder and Delight and ask her to get us both lost in a nimble manner. I let her take a few wrong turns, we do a lap around a community center, then Lucille bolts for a small hill and dives across its weedy face, on a road I’m not familiar with, until we find the perfect place to take some measurements.

Poway Royal Estates! What a fine name for a trailer park. My apartment building is unofficially known as the Legion Hall of Bright Red Glorious Underpants, Justice, Whiskey, and Ninjas, so why shouldn’t this mobile home park be called Poway Royal Estates? I like it.

Lucille the Truck of Good Times and Grace drops us down into the park, and we wiggle along streets until she finds a spot to stop. I hop out to gather some readings. Except for the thrum of a washing machine, the po-to-weet of a little bird, and a man ratcheting a socket wrench under the hood of a minivan, this street doesn’t even register on the low end of my decibel meter’s scale. Across the street from the man working on his car, a window shuts and latches, presumably because his wrench makes too much noise.

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Comments

TedBurke Jan. 14, 2009 @ 5:32 p.m.

I had had for some time refused to get a cell phone and preferred rather to rage at the yakking philistines who couldn't stand silence in public places like bus stops or airline terminals , nor be bothered to bring a book or a magazine with them if they knew they might be alone at some period in the day, between stations, with no one to confirm their bitcheness. It was a satisfying arrangement; overworked and underpaid and yet with so much unfulfilled promise that I could bare speak when my anger welled up like some dystopian stew blowing off the oppressive lid, my contempt for cell phones and the tech-addicted jerks who diluted the language with the odious devices was just the thing one needed to get a psychic leg up in the world.

I was smarter, I was old school, I revered books and the words printed on them by great writers who took their mission seriously, I cherished meditative quiet and loathed boorishness, I was a man of the ages (or at least the Seventies), I was an arrogant jerk. Arrogant and a jerk, yes, but it fed my ego, made up for whatever perceived failures I might have brooded over and over as the years wore on. In the meantime, a mixed clutch of exchange students drifted toward the curb as the wayward bus finally emerged in the horizon and now approached the red painted curb, every other one of them rambling with a dead pan earnestness in the narrative tongue into cell phones wedged between shoulder and tilted head while they fumbled for bus passes or exact change. Doubtless who ever these folks were talking to knew when their phone mates would arrive, and how to reach their party if they didn't show.

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Ollie Jan. 15, 2009 @ 9:12 a.m.

Did you just read the first paragraph then quit, Ted?

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Ollie Jan. 15, 2009 @ 10:56 a.m.

Good eye, Jenna. Yes, that was in honor of the late Kurt V.

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jenna Jan. 15, 2009 @ 12:05 p.m.

Aww shucks Ollie. Are you going to give me a gold star?

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Ollie Jan. 15, 2009 @ 11:52 p.m.

Gold stars are only given out to Vonnegut fans ... who scrub my bathtub.

Email me for my address and available times.

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rickeysays Feb. 6, 2009 @ 11:34 a.m.

This story was a good idea, but it didn't go anywhere. I wish more cities were visited and more everyday noise was reported on. Not to mention the leaf blowing people causing it being told of what a waste that is and annoying.

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auntsandiegospeaks March 20, 2009 @ 8:43 p.m.

I was in the process of researching Noise Abatement laws in the City of San Diego, when I came across this story. I happen to live downtown and I accept that noise is a part of downtown life. But, there is a limit.

I would like to communicate with the author, Ollie, regarding any assistance he/she can provide. There are several "clubs" in the Gaslamp area that play music so loud that walking by, across the street, hurts the ears and prevents any communication. This was at Whiskey Girl. At the very least they should close the doors & windows or move into an underground shelter!

So, Ollie, please contact me via a message in my blog area: auntsandiegoapeaks, Downtown.

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AmericasNoisiestCity April 10, 2009 @ 2:21 a.m.

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.…”

The previous laws are apparently just an afterthought to maybe do, if you are the City. Even though the tax payer is paying for their own noise abuse! Near Miramar/Clairmont is a neverending Noise! It sounds like a refrigerator noise, and reverberates through vast areas. I think is is generated by the sewage dept. There is supposed to be a pipe that sends recycled water to Chula Vista for their golf courses. As if anyone would have the nerves to hold a steady golf club after all the noise abuse!

It runs under 805. But I think they are saturated with Crap, and have you noticed when you turn on your water, there is a slight sound. Monitoring? But back to the subject of Miramar noise especially strong in Clairemont and into Allied Gardens area! These city Asses are just that, Fools, who hire engineers who do one thing, and in the functioning of that thing, Cause another damaging problem!

And the sad news is there are no investigative minds who give a damn to investigate. But down the road, everyone is going to pay with their poor health! The only ones complaining are myself and some neighborhood dogs, so don't blame any pets on their protests, they have more sense than the mothers and fathers of the "children" who are also being damaged! I don't understand how people can just sit there day after day, and let this S*** bombard them! And this 24/7 crap noise started in August of 2004! Unbeliveable! Any lawyers out there! Any scientists out there to establish this noise abuse??? And whatever happened to the protected species who are supposed to inhabit the Noise Fields? What a sham this city is, that's why they should not be allowed any more money-grabbing schemes!

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