21 February 2013


I grew up on the prairie, on farms and in small rural towns.  I grew up amid quiet.  When I think back, the sounds that I recall are the rustle of tall grass, the calls of meadowlarks, and the wind ~ the Earth breathing.  Now things have changed.

The Setting
I currently live in a city of about 70,000 people.  I've lived in places with many more (5 million), and many less (3).  Several years ago, I was forced into early retirement by injuries related to my work.  Now I exist on Social Security Disability, limited both by my disability and by my tiny income from enjoying the active life I pursued as a younger man.

As that younger man, I usually had music of one genre or another playing all the time at home.  But in recent years I've come to favor quiet.  And there's the rub, because true quiet is scarce where I live.  Here are the sounds which accompany my days and nights ~

The complex of one-bedroom apartments where I reside is situated near the intersection of two major traffic arteries ~ I'm one block from the four-lane east-west street, and two blocks from the six-lane north-south street.  Traffic noise is constant until late evening, especially in the summer.  

The north-south street arches onto an overpass to accommodate both the east-west street and a parallel set of railroad tracks on the far side ~ tracks which then branch and branch again to form the city's railroad yard.  When train whistles or horns are distant, they evoke a romantic echo.  When they are closer, not so much.  The rumble of passing trains can occur day or night.  As if for emphasis, a railroad siding branches from the main line and passes within 40 feet of my door.  Once a day, an engine and two or three freight cars thunders past to the siding terminus, where a metals recycling plant loads materials, then thunders back ~ thankfully at a slow speed because of the curves in the track.

Nearby is a beer distributor, from which emanates the "beep-beep-beep" back-up warning horn of delivery trucks and pallet loaders.  There's also a paper-cardboard-plastics recycling plant whose heavy machinery emits a high-pitched mechanical whine.  In another direction sprawls a shopping center, contributing to the volume of traffic.

As if this confluence of noise producers weren't enough, I'm also near the traffic pattern for the city's airport.  Thankfully the number of aircraft landing and taking off is small.

Adding to the mechanical outside noise, pedestrians on the sidewalks outside either end of my apartment sometimes detract from my privacy ~ by talking loudly as they pass, even yelling.  Most of the residents are courteous, but some are college students who have yet to learn that their behavior impacts others.  

My door opens onto a three-story stairwell, whose concrete steps are supported by steel beams which extend into the building's frame, thus acting as a magnifier for every footfall on the stairs.  Those who are heavy-footed or in a hurry generate their own muted thunder.  Foot traffic is not constant, but certainly noticeable.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky that my city isn't a busy seaport.

I live on the ground floor, with neighbors on either side and upstairs. During my seven year tenure, neighbors and their particular sounds have come and gone.  The complex has formal quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m., which helps establish a baseline.  When someone's noise is especially intrusive, my approach is to go to their door, explain the problem, and ask for their cooperation.  If it happens again, I call in a noise complaint to the police, and notify the property management agency.  No second chances.  I've only had to call the police a handful of times.  Most people are willing to tone it down, once they realize how conductive the walls are.

At the moment, I have a neighbor on one side who is learning to play rhythm guitar, a neighbor on the other side who has a resounding voice (especially on the telephone) plus an irritating cackling laugh, and a neighbor upstairs who practices karate.  I've had to approach all three, but only the would-be guitarist has required a call to the police.  Once.

The floor plans are such that I can tell when one neighbor is cooking, or when another is using the bathroom, or when another is doing laundry.  Charming.  

One might wonder, with all the noise sources, how is it possible to sleep?  I'm a night owl, so when my bedtime rolls around, usually others are already quiet.  As insurance, I run a small floor fan to provide white noise.  It works quite well ~ except for that passing train on the siding.

The Outlook
It is my goal, by the time my lease expires in August, to find a place to live that is either in a quiet neighborhood, or completely out of town ~ perhaps in another climate altogether.  I would prefer a house with plenty of space for my cats to run around in, windows for them to watch the world go by, and a garage for my winter-abused truck.  Residential rentals in this city are ridiculously overpriced, so we'll see what I have to compromise on.  In the meantime, I believe it's time for some classical music.

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