When I lived in the six hundred block of Federal Street, in Philly, I needed air conditioning— not because of the heat, but because of the noise. At night, the racket from car horns, radios, and drunk pedestrians often robbed me of sleep, but noise in big cities is ubiquitous. We learn to tolerate it, unless we can’t. That’s when we have to battle the bad guys.
I had an opportunity to stop noise pollution once. I lived across the street from a huge Chinese restaurant that kept two dumpsters in the back. When the dumpster trash pick-up suddenly changed to three in the morning, I got upset. Every night I was awakened by the beep beep of the truck followed by the crashing of glass as it slid out of the dumpster. Oh my god, I have to get up in two and a half hours, I’d moan. Within moments, my heart was hammering, and I was loaded for bear.
One night, I snapped. I jumped out of bed and dashed across the street in my nightgown to accost the driver. “Do you know what time it is?” I screamed. The poor guy apologized, said he had nothing to do with the schedule, and gave me the name of the city department that handled noise complaints. I sheepishly thanked him, and retreated.
The next day, I called the Department of Air Management. The result: no more night collections. Not that the nights became quiet, but it was gratifying to have my right to a good night’s sleep protected. According to the city, we all deserve clean air to breathe, and to be free from noise, smoke and other nuisances. I agree.
Here in Costa Rica, one of the things Jack and I most prize is the silence. During the day, one or two of the farm trucks will roar up our driveway, and occasionally we’ll have to endure the whine of the weedwacker or the boisterous Ho! of the guy driving cows from one place to another, but in the evening, the only sounds come courtesy of night birds, frogs, geckos, and crickets.
Recently, noise has been crashing against our side of the mountain from across the valley, in Cerbatana. During the day, the dissonance originates from motocross competitions. All day long, we hear the vroom, vroom, vroom of noisy motorcycle engines. At night, the sounds of pulsating music, booming bass drums, and guys yelling into giant speakers pollute the air.
Fortunately, our bedroom faces away from the valley, so we can usually manage to get to sleep. Our friends, Marguerite and Wayne, aren’t so lucky. When they bought their property across the valley, they thought they’d found a slice of paradise. They built a house and cabin and planted extensively. They enjoyed the views and the serenity. Alas, the noises that bump against our side of the valley bellow into their bedroom, and occupy every inch of their house.
“There has to be something you can do about it,” I’ve insisted, during the five and a half months they’ve been aurally bombarded. Maybe not. They’ve hired a lawyer, collected signatures, complained to the Ministry of Health, and asked every contact they’ve made here, but they can’t stop the noise.
Why all the fuss? Noise isn’t merely annoying. Loud noise is an environmental stressor that can cause negative effects on our acoustic, cardiovascular, nervous and endocrine systems. It can affect our sense of balance; cause dizziness, tiredness, irritability and headaches; and raise blood pressure. It can make you crazy.
I know we’re not in Philadelphia any more, and I’m not suggesting I would want Costa Rica to be like anywhere, USA, but I sure wish they’d adopt more people-friendly controls on noise.