Monday, April 27, 2009

Silence is underrated

My first car was a '67 MGB. A beautiful little machine, painted British racing green, with wire wheels. The black leather bucket seats were so close to the ground I could open the door and put the palm of my hand flat on the pavement while sitting. (I dearly wish I still had that car!)

It was actually my parents', but I was a primary driver and did the routine maintenance, etc., on it.

Some of the first "upgrades" I did were: 1) replacing the factory muffler with a "glasspack" to give it a more spirited sounding snorty exhaust note, and 2) installing the AM/FM/8-track.

(The tape deck install was pretty tricky - the MG had "positive ground" instead of the industry-standard negative ground; I used plywood to insulate the bracket from the car chassis, and if you touched the tape deck and chassis with a piece of metal - for instance a screwdriver - it would throw sparks. But I digress.)

With the glasspack and the 8-track, I was in business! I could "zoom-zoom" down the street, with the Beach Boys or The Doors blasting, to partially drown out the zoom-zooming.

Volume from the door-mounted 5-inch speakers was limited, so I put headphone jacks in the dashboard... that way, if we were top-down motoring on the freeway, my passenger and I could still enjoy the righteous tunes. (My hair was different back then, too... after a day of head-to-the-wind driving, it took some serious combing to get rid of the knots! The ringing in my ears took awhile to get rid of, too.)

Fond memories.

Times have changed.

Nowadays the kids still like replacing the stock (quiet) muffler with something louder. On the little rice-burner cars, they put a "resonator" on the exhaust. Some folks call 'em "fart cans." (Ironically, if it adds "performance" at all, I believe it's only in the high-RPM range. Of course, that same thing was true of my MG "glasspack.") They look different, too - those resonators are so big in diameter you could stuff CDs in the hole, and they seriously compromise ground clearance. Maybe if I was 16, it would be a pleasant sound, but to my geezer ears it sounds like noise.

And nowadays, the tunes don't come through two 5-inch speakers. Some of their setups have a trunk and backseat full of subwoofers, driven by literally thousands of watts. Spare batteries and alternators aren't unusual, just to handle the added electrical load of the rolling ghetto blaster.

Oddly, the neighbors sometimes don't appreciate the kids' taste in cars and music, when the kids can be heard approaching from a quarter-mile away. And it's annoying for fellow motorists when their noise is rattling all the hardware in their car... and yours, too!

Of course, it's not just the kids, or cars.

Lots of motorcycle riders of all ages seem to think the noisier, the better! (Both Harley and "rice rocket" jockeys.) Some of 'em are even foolish enough to buy into the notion that "loud pipes save lives." (What a load!)

And pickups! I swear, some of those pickup drivers must go to the dealer and say, "I want the biggest, loudest, stinkiest truck you sell! And if it's not big and loud and stinky enough, I'll take my business elsewhere!"

Of course, all motor traffic is pretty noisy. Even a Lexus or a Prius in electric-mode drowns out the sound of a bicycle. Particularly when it's wearing studded snow tires - studs make a huge racket!

I'll sometimes ride extra distance just to get away from traffic noise. And when I'm riding with traffic, I'll frequently take consolation by realizing I'm dealing with it just momentarily, unlike that poor schmoe who's sittin' behind the wheel.

The "beauty of quiet" seems to be largely lost by the non-motoring public, too, however.

Have we learned nothing from Thoreau?

I'm amazed at the percentage of both cyclists and pedestrians who have the earplugs jammed in these days.

Now, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with good-quality sound. My motorsickle produces a throaty rumble that I find quite pleasant. (The neighbors don't seem to mind, either - unlike some riders, I'm quite deliberate in trying not to offend them.) And I bet I enjoy good music as much as anybody. (Of course, "good music" is totally subjective... most people have musical taste that is measurably inferior to my own. hahahaha!) And occasionally I can be found on the bicycle, or even motorcycle, with the earplugs. In certain situations.

But I also have come to appreciate silence... or silence punctuated only by the sound of birds chirping, or a chorus of happy frogs, or wind whistling through the trees. One of my favorite sounds is that made by my 2-year-old granddaughter, if she's chattering - or better yet, singing - as I pull her along behind me in the trailer.

If you keep your bike maintained (including oiling the chain!), and choose appropriate tires for the type of riding you're doing, a bicycle is remarkably quiet. It doesn't drown out the subtle tones.

Perhaps if your eardrums are bombarded every waking hour, you're desensitizing yourself. "Dymamic contrast" (louds and quiets) adds to the variety of life. Appreciate the loud passages and the quiet passages. You might hear something quiet that will surprise and delight you.

1 comment:

Apertome said...

Great post. I agree, one of the great things about bicycling is how well you can hear everything around you. Actually, it's more than that: a feast for all the senses.