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.