The Noise Terrorists
*Note: This article was originally published by the author on February 23, 2021.
In 2017, my wife and I bought a ranch-style house that was built in 1957 that sits directly off of a major Los Angeles county thoroughfare street. As a retired Marine, I used my Veterans Administration (VA) home loan to purchase our first home after honorably retiring from the Marines in 2015 after serving 20 years on active duty. Our street is only a 4-lane road, two lanes running North/South each, but it stays busy all day and night. “Welcome to homeownership in a metro,” I could imagine my neighbors saying to us.
The windows and insulation in the walls of our house have not been upgraded since the home was first built. I know this because when I recently demolished the master bathroom to renovate it, I discovered how cheaply the home was insulated and how little it does to insulate the house from cold or heat. It became clear as to why our energy bills were high.
The home has a unique one-story architecture with an L-shaped layout which means that even though it is bigger than any of our neighbors’ homes or lots, the L-shape closest to the busy street is where our master bedroom and the adjacent garage are located. I had no idea what we were in for with the noise when we bought this place.
According to the Environmental Pollution Centers Organization, “noise pollution is generally defined as regular exposure to elevated sound levels that may lead to adverse effects in humans or other living organisms. According to the World Health Organization, sound levels less than 70 dB are not damaging to living organisms, regardless of how long or consistent the exposure is. Exposure for more than 8 hours to constant noise beyond 85 dB may be hazardous. If you work for 8 hours daily in close proximity to a busy road or highway, you are very likely exposed to traffic noise pollution around 85dB.”
Illegal fireworks were set off from multiple locations randomly nearly every night during the pandemic from May to well after Independence Day. The fireworks seem to have subsided now temporarily. We have no false expectation that it will stay that way, however. There are train tracks less than a half-mile down the street so we get to hear the super-loud train horn blasts multiple times per day. Overhead passenger jets, helicopters, and smaller planes pass by to one of a few different airports.
On the street, we hear bass-thumping car stereos, Harley Davidson and crotch rocket motorcycles throttling their engines, city street sweepers and garbage trucks at 5:00 am in the morning, gardeners using weedeaters and lawnmowers. Due to the fact that we live in a community with a lot of senior citizen care homes, on a typical day, we hear at least 5 or more ambulances roar by with sirens blaring.
If all of that wasn’t enough, and perhaps worst of all, are the wannabe Fast and Furious street racing cars with modified exhaust systems specially designed to increase the volume of noise they produce as they race up and down our street at all hours of the day and the night. Sometimes, we even get car clubs taking over an intersection to watch each other doing donuts and burning rubber while filming their dumb activities. The penultimate definition of ‘circle jerk.’ Add to that the souped-up pickup trucks with the throaty HEMI engines and modified exhaust pipes accelerating from 0-to-60+ MPH (the speed limit is 40 MPH by the way) dozens of times per day and night. Even as I type this factual account, one such speedster truck just took off and accelerated down our street as if to remind me not to forget about those types of noise polluters.
Worse still is the fact that our home is located on a street designated as the city limit between our city and a neighboring city to the West of us. Therefore, anytime we want to complain to the police about some fireworks or street car racing, we have to try to figure out which police department to call. Neither police department, by the way, has done anything to address our concerns or our neighbors’ concerns in the three years that we have lived at the house to deter fireworks, street racing, or even issue citations for the illegally modified, extra noisy exhaust systems. Despite the multiple complaints, the fireworks and street racing noise terrorism continues and we rarely ever see police cars pulling any drivers over for speeding on our street.
One car, a green sporty-looking type of Nissan possibly, has had its exhaust modified. Once it reaches a certain RPM, it backfires extremely loudly as it drives down our street. That particular car drives down our street multiple times per day and night and it sounds like a shotgun or loud booming fireworks are going off if the RPM-levels are reached which they almost always are. Amazingly, this creep never gets pulled over by police and cited with even a fix-it ticket.
Words cannot describe how frustrating it is to live next to a major street. It’s as if our needs for a peaceful living environment don’t matter. It feels like our little slice of the community is like the red-headed stepchild that nobody wants. About a year ago there was a shooting involving the police and some gang members about a quarter mile down the street. Stray bullets hit the apartment complex nearby. No injuries were reported but the street intersection was closed down for the investigation for several hours.
The major street we live off of was repaved in 2020 and it also happens to be a designated truck route between two major Southern California freeways, the I-10 and the I-210. That means that we often get 18-wheeler semi-trucks passing by our house but mostly in the middle of the night. The semis are so powerful and loud that they sometimes shake the house as they pass by.
The smooth, newly repaved asphalt and few stoplights have made our street a new favorite for the street racers. Before the road repairs, there were big bumps in the road from tree roots and cracked asphalt that made drivers slow down or take another route. Now it’s just pedal to the metal it seems. No cops, no speeding tickets, few traffic lights, no speed bumps despite kids playing nearby…
Healthwise, my sleep, in particular, has suffered ever since we moved into the house over three years ago. I used to take 5 mg of Melatonin nearly every night during those three years to help me achieve some measure of unbroken sleep through the night. I’d log maybe 5 or 6 hours a night if I was lucky but it’s almost always broken sleep.
Melatonin supplements can make me groggy and the long-term side effects of taking ‘extra’ Melatonin, more than our bodies naturally produce, have not been studied so I am waiting to start growing a third nipple or something any day now. Nevertheless, melatonin has been my saving grace as it has helped me sleep in this noisy environment so that I wasn’t a complete zombie most days.
I also bought a white noise machine that I turn on to help drown out the loud cars and trucks passing by in the middle of the night. However, my wife doesn’t like me using it because it makes it more difficult to hear anyone attempting to break into our house. Because of the L-shaped home architecture, our kids are located on the other end of the house. But let’s not fool each other, it’s either I take the melatonin and use the sound machine, or my noise sensitivity and restless brain won’t let me get any sleep at all.
Due to combat while in Kuwait, Iraq, and other lovely hot spots around the globe as a Marine, I’ve lost some of my hearing which you would think would be in my favor when it came to the effects of noise pollution. But no such luck. Unfortunately, I am sensitive to loud explosive noises like backfires and loud booms of illegal mortar fireworks. It has to do partly with PTSD, partly with noise sensitivity, and is partly reactionary from my experiences in combat and in training for combat.
I’ll never forget the cacophony of incoming indirect artillery and mortar fire coupled with the subsequent return volleys of an entire battery of 105mm howitzers located a short distance from our combat operations center. Shellshocked seems like such a calm word to describe the feeling. I still live with tinnitus ringing in my ears almost daily.
I am left wondering how much of this is just my noise sensitivity or actual noise pollution? I’ve lived in Northern or Southern California most of my life apart from some years I spent overseas or stationed elsewhere stateside as a Marine. It boggles my mind to think about SoCal being a region so ravaged by wildfires, yet we still have a problem with idiots who think setting off illegal fireworks is acceptable. I am sure it’s probably some misguided youth but who knows?
I’ve thought about purchasing a drone to capture live recorded video footage of whoever is setting the fireworks off but I would rather not bother with getting a drone operator license and there are the trees and power lines to worry about as well. If I am honest, I’ve also thought about launching a couple of well-aimed bricks through some windshields. But, of course, had I done that I would not be here writing this story. It’s probably best not to do that.
“Fighting Back” Against Noise Pollution
Despite the noise pollution we deal with in our house there are certain things we can do to nullify its effects:
- Re-insulate the walls and attic
- Install double-paned windows
- Plant shrubs to help muffle noise pollution from the street
- Use white noise to offset noise pollution
- Use noise-canceling headphones or earplugs
It’s important to keep things in perspective because the noise is enough to drive anyone mad after a while. Obviously, I am not the only one enduring this noise pollution and some people can handle it better than others. Some people don’t seem to be bothered by it at all, in fact. Lashing out at drivers like some deranged old white man will not get me anywhere and could, in fact, actually lead to an early demise. Calling the police every time someone sets off illegal fireworks or some loud car whizzing by us won’t result in righteous arrests or sudden cessation of the offending noise. The local police department has one police officer assigned to our entire area of the city and they are almost never seen. They only did a 5–day traffic enforcement period when the police department received a grant.
No, instead I’ve resolved that it’s better for me to try to adapt to my environment and implement whatever personal measures I can to nullify the effects of noise pollution in our home environment. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind.” Do not be broken by the wind or the noise my friends. I am fighting the urge to put the house up for sale and move to the desert or to a quieter, more rural setting. However, that’s just not practical from a work commute perspective which will eventually become a major issue again once the pandemic work-from-home period is over. Wish me luck. Hopefully, I don’t lose it and go mad.
(Unhappy city slicker)