Can't hear you. Let me turn neighborhood down

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 2, 2011 - 5:25 PM

THERE'S A PROPOSED ORDINANCE AIMED AT...

Sorry, didn't mean to shout. There's a proposed ordinance aimed at curbing the noise produced by outdoor bar patios in Minneapolis, where people assemble to enjoy themselves for the three or four hours of good evening weather we get each summer. Seems the music and the hubbub are injurious to neighbors, so it's time for laws to hush 'em up. Bar owners don't like it. DOESN'T SEEM LOUD TO US. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, WHY AM I YELLING?

The ordinance seems aimed at Uptown, where the young 'n' playful set goes to stand on rooftops and drink and shout over the music, which is loud, so everyone shouts louder, which drowns out the music, so they turn it up, which makes people shout louder, until it sounds like the Roman Coliseum on Disco Night. No one hears anything anyone says. People text themselves because they can't hear themselves think. The spillover noise might be annoying -- but it's the entertainment district. You don't move next to Target Field and complain because there are bright lights at night and it sounds like someone is always hitting something with a piece of wood.

But I'm sympathetic. Lived in Uptown for years and went through the same thing. There was a patio bar a few blocks from my apartment, which not only guaranteed a distant thumpa-thumpa until closing time on the weekends, but a stream of hooting inebriates weaving back to their cars, operating on the time-honored assumption of urban tipplers -- those dark windows in the apartments means no one's home, so we can yell WOOOOO to indicate that we are the kind of guys who like to say WOOOO and everyone should be impressed with us. WOOOO! They would rev their engines to underscore the point that they possessed an internal combustion engine, and crank up the Loverboy to remind everyone in earshot that everybody is, in fact, working for the weekend. After this a train would come through: CANG CANG CANG went the signals, then a rushing torrent of metal for three minutes. I'm still amazed they didn't tell residents it was 2 a.m. by setting off the tornado sirens.

But it was Uptown, and that's why we lived there. To be in the center of things! The throbbing heart of the city! When the art fair starts up, I can't get out the front door of my building because there are 16 people on the stoop eating elephant ears -- how delightfully urban!

It's the price of city living. When I lived in Cedar Square West 10 floors above the West Bank, the end of the night meant they'd dump out the bottles, which sounded like someone tossing a bag of cymbals down an up escalator. Our current neighborhood is relatively quiet, except for the enormous flying machines that appear overhead every three minutes screaming like pterodactyls in gastric distress; they fly so low I am frequently compelled to call the airport and tell them that the air pressure on the left rear tire on the 2:57 from Detroit looks a little soft. You get used to it. What's more, the initial conversation with the Realtor was like this:

"IS THERE A LOT OF AIRPORT NOISE?"

"WHAT?

"IS THERE A LOT OF AIRPORT NOISE?"

"HAVE YOU BOUGHT SOME BEAR FORT TOYS?"

"NO -- OK, WAIT TILL IT GOES OVERHEAD." Do I complain? No. But the Metropolitan Airports Commission has a program to insulate homes from jet racket -- depending on how close you are, they'll either buy you new windows or bury your house entirely in cement -- and perhaps this approach could be taken in Uptown. Just as the MAC program is financed by surcharges on airfares, a penny or two added to every drink could buy Uptown residents new windows for those annoying summer months. Or earmuffs.

No, that's too harsh. Here's a thought: Just turn it down after 10. No one ever complains that the music is so low it fails to inhibit conversation. Perhaps a bar owner will object: "Our customers have little to say and less interest in hearing what others say, so low music would hurt our business. I mean, there's always a bar somewhere else where the music's so loud doctors recommend it for non-invasive kidney-stone dissolving, and we have to compete."

Perhaps there's a decibel level where everyone's equally unhappy with everyone else. In the city, we call that a happy medium.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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