Jeff Smith 11:52 a.m., May 21
Traffic. Sirens. Police. Firetrucks. Ambulances. Jet Planes. These are the noises of my neighborhood. It is no wonder the wealthy families who first settled in Golden Hill during the late 1880's eventually got tired of the racket and headed east, leaving behind large, elegant homes and wide open boulevards. Sadly, over time, the neighborhood fell into despair. A century later, Golden Hill had become a haven for street gangs, junkies, and transients- people who had bigger problems to worry about than decibel levels.
Today, the neighborhood is as noisy as ever. Although the gangs have been replaced by musicians and artists, a criminal element still exists, and the sirens of police cars never let you forget it. Although the homeless have been pushed to the outskirts of town, the clatter of shopping carts still echoes from the alleys.
The trendy East Village at the bottom of the slope is exploding with new sounds as well. Construction. Sports bars. Night clubs. Bowling alleys. The noise climbs further up the hill every day, creating a non-stop symphony of sounds...a chorus of commotion. Airplanes scream by, one after another, and conversations must pause for them to pass, like pedestrians waiting for the light to change. Freeways rush through town like rivers. Traffic ebbs and flows, not unlike the tides of the ocean.
Local residents know that if you live here long enough, you'll stop noticing the noise after a while. What you will begin to notice, however, are the more subtle sounds of life on the hill, sounds that can only be heard by those who are really listening.
Golden Hill is a musical place. Its southern boundary is a bridge which crosses over the 94 freeway. Built by a local artist, the bridge plays a tune if its rungs are struck while crossing. On the north side of the bridge is Golden Hill's bustling commercial district, which consists of a handful of food markets, restaurants, liquor stores, and one very stylish fire station.
Walking down 25th Street, you'll hear street merchants selling flowers. You'll hear a cacophony of birds and people perched on the patio of Krakatoa, our local coffee shop. You'll hear the sound of pizza dough being tossed and pounded over at Luigi's Pizzeria, and you'll hear rowdy laughter escaping the infamous Turf Club anytime its heavy wooden door swings open.
After dark, you'll hear the comforting hum of neon lights, the crackle of electricity, and the hoots of the night owls, awake and alive. When traffic dies down at dusk, you'll hear the whisper of the wind down the wide, empty streets, the seductive songs of the crickets, and the rustle of the palm trees swaying high above. These are the sounds that I listen for. These are the sounds of life on the hill.
Summer brings new noises to town as well. The ka-boom! of fireworks and the subsequent barking of dogs. The bittersweet wail of mariachi bands singing songs of amor! off in the distance. The angry hiss of sprinklers watering freshly mowed lawns. The ting-a-ling of the ice cream man's silver bell as he pushes his frozen goods across the street makes my mouth water in a Pavlovian sort of way.
During baseball season, I can hear the thrill and excitement of a home run. Just listening to the roar of the crowds gives me a craving for peanuts and crackerjacks. I can always tell whether the Padres won or lost simply by following the soundtrack of the game.
From my bedroom, I hear the approaching rattle of skateboard wheels, the whiz of a ten-speed bike flying past my house, or the slap of sneakers on the sidewalk as little kids run home from school. On Sunday mornings, I am awakened by church bells resonating from down the street.
On Wednesday afternoons, I hear the chip! chip! chip! of my father, carving marble sculptures in the backyard. On Friday evenings I hear the crash! boom! bang! of the rock band that practices in our garage. And on Saturday nights, I fall asleep to the steady thump! of hip hop bass coming from the people upstairs. We are musicians and artists, and we are people in motion.
When the air is thick and heavy, I can hear the voices of transportation- the far-off moan of a foghorn blowing in from the bay, or the last call of a cruise ship before it sets off on another bon voyage. I can hear the clang! clang! of a passing trolley or the whistle of a train pulling into the station, as if to announce, “I'm home!”. Whenever I hear these familiar sounds, I know that I'm home, too. For some folks, the noise of the city is too much to bear. But to me, the sound of the hill is “golden”.