Almost 30 years ago we moved to rural Whatcom County from Seattle. One of the first differences we noticed between city life and rural life was locals’ attitudes toward noise. After years of urban chaos—blaring sirens, honking horns, buses with air brakes, disturbed pedestrians shouting to themselves, and the ubiquitous jackhammer—we found the silence in Ferndale pleasantly deafening.
Not long after arriving, I visited a man who lived in the very heart of Whatcom County farmland. I found the guy riding his lawn mower in the middle of the biggest field I’d ever visited. During our brief conversation, he lamented, “Hear that noise? I hate it that civilization is encroaching on our privacy!” I strained my ears to hear what he heard. Bees buzzed. Crickets chirped. Clouds silently glided by. The sun beat down on us. Then, in the far off distance, I heard a faint train engine whistle, a mere whisper. And this guy was appalled at the noise!
Thirty years later and now I’m appalled at civilization encroaching on our privacy. While leisurely watering plants in our front yard last week three motorcycles raced past our house clearly NOT following the 25 MPH speed limit. What really got me, though, was the noise. The combined decibel levels of an amped up Jethro Tull concert, the deafening racket of diesel ferryboat engines, and misguided firecrackers going off next to my ear, couldn’t match the jarring pandemonium of these motorcycles. My ligaments disconnected from my bones, my blood pressure spiked, and my bladder beheld the garden hose with longing. Death by motorcycle noise? It’s possible.
Transforming sources of irritation is one of the skills I teach clients so here is my attempt at cognitive self-therapy. What possible reasons could these bikers have besides an evil attempt at murder by two-stroke engine for polluting airwaves with such disquietude?
1. They attended so many rock concerts in their youth that they, like Pete Townsend, have hearing loss. What I experienced as cacophonous bedlam they experience as purring kittens.
2. They’ve lived lives of powerlessness and this is their attempt at regaining a voice. As children, adults squelched their tantrums and this is an attention-getting payback.
3. Broken mufflers; perhaps they couldn’t help the noise and they were rushing to mechanic friends for beers and emergency repairs.
4. They are bumbling undercover agents infiltrating the Banditos and totally blowing it because even Banditos’ bikes aren’t that loud.
5. They're from PR trying to overcome the biker stereotype of being “dirty, leather clad men with shaggy beards covered in road dust riding around the country wreaking havoc and getting into barroom brawls” (taken from a website, Top 10 Notorious American Biker Gangs). If their campaign is successful, we’ll consider them nothing more than a bunch of noisy but happy-go-lucky guys out for a summer ride.
6. They are daring philosophers, ethicists, and politicians to weigh their individual rights against society’s collective rights. Do indeed others' rights end where our eardrums begin? It’s debatable, but who’s nervy enough to launch the debate?
7. This is an effort to promote fuel-efficient transportation. Their message? “We will woo you into giving up your gas guzzlers by destroying your hearing.”
8. They are existential nihilists bent on terrorizing peace-loving citizens who pay their taxes and water their lawns. Oh wait, that option doesn’t calm me down one tiny bit.
9. They are earplug manufacturers exercising First Amendment rights to free speech and are simply drumming up business.
10. They are noise junkies who've made huge strides in recovery. They used to fly fighter jets with the windows open, groove on 727s taking off, and use airraid sirens for an alarm clock. They’re working their way down to electric cars, mopeds, then the soothing sound of mountain bike derailleurs.
11. It’s a reenactment of family of origin issues. Like the Woody Allen character raised under a roller coaster, the noisier the better.
I’m still trying to get over it but I do feel better. Thanks for listening.