How About A Little Less Klaxon And Little More Klax-Off?

"Do we have any eggs?" Jen asks just before the snooze goes off again this morning. I tell her that we do. "Because," she decides, her voice rising as she snaps off the alarm and pushes herself off the bed, "I want to make it clear to these a-holes that people actually live in these apartments right above where they're honking."

This is basically the gist of what she had on her mind as she was getting out of bed this morning. We live on a street where people like to honk in a city where people seem to love to honk, so suffice it to say, when there's a situation in which one has the opportunity to honk, we really get to feel it. Here's an MP3 of what it sounded like in our apartment this morning: "Vernon Boulevard, October 29, 2010, 8:21 a.m." MP3 (:57):

Just so you understand, this went on for what seemed like twenty minutes. Most of the time it's unclear exactly what people who honk think will happen, since car horns do very little to move large objects. In the example this morning, an obstacle a block or two away was blocking the route and every other car was helpfully letting whoever it was know that he or she was impeding the normal flow of traffic on Vernon Boulevard. That's the charitable explanation.

At the time we were thinking something more along the lines of Why the fuck are you honking? And honking so vigorously. And it seems honking so much more loudly than normal, which as far as I know is impossible but which is what is seems like in your studio apartment with your windows open at eight in the morning.

I think, though I'm not totally certain, that the culture of honking in New York is unique in the United States. Drivers in New York seem to take to honking like it's some anthropological rite. I once had a car in New York, leftover from my time elsewhere and now long gone, and I also developed an affinity for honking, or I at least felt that this was a place where it was acceptable to honk. I honked when it came time to enforce the social contract — I blew the horn at drivers cutting lines, for example, and really laid on it when I perceived drivers generally being assholes. I'm sure it felt good at the time, though in retrospect I would feel bad if I ever woke up someone from sleep because of it.

Eventually my horn stopped working, which was good, since it finally cured me from honking for less-than-emergency reasons. Of course when I went to get the car inspected the non-working car horn was one of the things on the long list of items that according to the State of New York "had" to be fixed. I still tried to lay off using it, but I admit that there were times when I grew weak.

Jen will find this admission funny, since whenever we rent a car and take it through the Lincoln Tunnel I turn into a total idiot and start honking like crazy at cars that "break the social contract." Not for nothing but most of these cars seem to have New Jersey license plates (though to be fair, this generally happens on the streets leading to the outbound Lincoln Tunnel, so it makes sense that there would be a bunch of bad drivers from Jersey there) (it doesn't help that New Jersey's yellow license plate is so noticeable). (A "theory" I have is that it isn't people from New York who drive badly but rather people from elsewhere who come into New York and feel like it's perfectly acceptable to drive like an asshole because they think that's what people do in New York — so that New York's "reputation" for having terrible drivers is fueled by those who live outside the five boroughs.)

Anyway, back when I owned a car, what I didn't do — or tried not to do, in case you ever drove with me and I happened to do this — was honk out of sheer frustration. Especially underneath someone's window at eight in the morning.

If the mayor wants to tackle a really important issue, here's one — just how fucking loud it is in New York:

Walk down almost any street in the city, and your ears are under attack. A new study released Wednesday at the International Conference of Urban Health sounds a warning about all this sound.

Ninety-eight percent of measurements taken in 60 spots around the city were above 70 decibels, which doctors say can cause irreversible damage over time.

And researchers say it's not just the horns or the trucks or the construction, it's the constant onslaught of all this noise that's doing the damage.

The noisiest places in the city according to the study were Times Square, First Avenue above 14th Street, Broadway in Inwood, and the Upper East Side.

And it's not just the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Think about that absurd reverse beep sound that invades your dreams during the night — those sounds are currently "restricted" to 85 decibels. Eighty-five decibels at one in the morning is really fucking loud. Columbia researchers think that the noise from diesel trucks can reach 100 decibels. In 2006 The Villager recorded noise in excess of 100 decibels in the Spring Street 6 train subway station. A noise expert estimates that some Sunnyside, Queens residents living near the Amtrak yards experience noise approaching 110 decibels. (It goes on and on . . . train horns . . . 1,500 watts of stereo on bicycles . . . even cicadas.)

Then there's this tidbit in that Sunnyside Rail Yards article linked above:

Even if residents are able to sleep through the sound, Blomberg added, their bodies still respond with a little burst of adrenaline, interrupting their sleep cycle. "Whether they acclimate or not, there are going to be some lingering effects to it," he said.

So basically, even if you can "sleep through anything," you really can't, and your health may be affected by it over the long term.

Seriously, rather than help a few people with high blood pressure, why not help everyone sleep better? We already have all those great signs — we should put them to use:

New York City Signage: No Horn Blowing

I have never heard of, much less actually seen, someone getting a ticket for honking his or her horn. That should change.

(While I have your "ear," I have to say that the only time I've ever seen a horn put to good use was when we were being driven on narrow dirt roads in the mountains of Peru, where drivers need to warn each other before dangerous bends in the road. Other than that, I can't think of any other reason to ever use a car horn. Ever.)

In the seven-plus years that 311 has been in existence, noise complaints have accounted for more than two million calls, the most common kind of call to the system. (And those are just people who actually called — we've never called about noise, mostly because it never lasts long enough to bring us to do anything — but that doesn't mean it's not really annoying and doesn't also really negatively affect the quality of life here.) We all literally live right on top of each other, and if the City should be trying to "fix" anything, this is the place to start. I would welcome a horn-blowing crackdown, and I think most people would. (As I write this, I'm thinking in particular about the anxious mofo in the OJ-era Bronco with New Jersey plates who made my ears ring this morning.)

What's more, it's low-hanging fruit — there may be a beverage industry that wants to lobby against soda taxes or a restaurant industry that lobbies against calorie counts, but as far as I know there's no asshole lobby that would fight a noise crackdown. Or maybe that's not flashy or self-promoting enough for this current administration.

By the way, here's apparently what was blocking Vernon Boulevard for like twenty minutes:

Car Being Towed To NYPD 108th Precinct, 5-47 50th Avenue, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Queens, October 29, 2010

Car In Evidence Outside NYPD 108th Precinct, 5-47 50th Avenue, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Queens, October 29, 2010

The guys outside the precinct were talking about a guy who was driving a car 200 mph, then crashed it and subsequently ran away — I don't know if this is the car they were talking about or not, but I'm assuming it was. Jen said she recognized it from around the neighborhood. Maybe it was stolen or something. (Not to condone car theft, but I have to admit that there's something awfully tempting about joyriding in an orange Lamborghini. I bet it was worth it.)

Posted: October 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Andy Rooney | Tags: , , ,

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