The Quest for Quiet

A few truly quiet places are left on earth, places without human noise—a section of Washington State rainforest, for example—but they are places far from roads and flight lanes where I will never go. That’s not what I’m talking about. I live in a city I love living in, don’t expect to ever be free of manmade noise. (A siren blew past as I was writing this.) But there used to be limits and lately they’ve been overrun.

Years ago we tried Limon, a new Peruvian restaurant, and found the food good, but the volume deafening. Voices across the table could not be heard. Phil asked if they could turn the music down.

“We’re going for a lounge ambiance,” the waiter replied. Rather snippily, I thought. The volume remained unchecked.

We did not return.

When Denver School of the Arts first moved to Montview and Quebec, the Johnson & Wales college campus across the street was lovely: trees, lawns, flowerbeds, benches and quiet. I took my creative writers there once or twice a semester to write.

The last year I taught, J & W had the idiot idea of installing outdoor speakers and playing pop music constantly, so there was never a moment for silent reflection. Perhaps they were trying to get high school kids off their lawns. If so, it worked: I stopped doing outdoor writing assignments there.

Some south Denver suburbanites call it the ghetto mall, but Northfield is our neighborhood shopping center. We visit its movie theatres, restaurants and stores regularly, and enjoy the diversity we find there. (I must say Mexican men seem especially stoic about holding the baby forever while their wives try on clothes, but maybe that’s just JC Penney’s.)

Here’s what I hate about Northfield: outdoor speakers. Music you don’t want to hear flooding the streets and sidewalks, clashing with other music you don’t want to hear pouring out of the stores and restaurants you walk past.

I’m used to the soft satellite rock, or whatever it is, at the dentist, but as I settled into the chair I realized I was hearing one song from speakers in my examination room and another from the reception desk across the hall. Look, I endorse the need for ambient noise to distract me from the drill, but no way could I survive that cavity-filling experience with competing stations assaulting me. I requested that one of them be turned off. The worst of it was the young dental assistant I asked didn’t know what I was talking about. Chicago and Barry Manilow duking it out and she was oblivious.

We belong to the Downtown Y, which most of the time provides a peaceful exercise experience, but aerobic and spinning classes are another thing, blast dance music or the soundtrack to the Lion King. If they leave their doors open, we sometimes are forced to shut them. Especially if it’s Lion King.

At the Parallel 17 bistro a month ago it was loud inside so we tried the patio and found a speaker looming over our table. We asked to have it turned down and our waitress quickly obliged. Thanking her, we were apologetic, attributed the need to our age. “Oh, no,” she protested. “Yesterday a twenty-something couple asked me to lower the music.”

Two things flashed through my mind: 1) it’s not just us (which means I can’t blame it on millennials as I was poised to do) and 2) if people regularly ask to turn it down, why keep turning it up?

We have a growing list of dining establishments we won’t patronize. Often it’s not just music, but people yelling at the top of their lungs, particularly at the bar, that earns the blacklist designation. I’ve begun a quest for restaurants and coffee shops conducive to inside voices conversation. If you know any, please tell me about them in the comments at the end of this rant.

Back on 17th Avenue’s restaurant row, we tried to dine at Parallel 17 again recently and found it closed for a private party. Limon is in the same block. We were skeptical, but it had been years, after all, and we already had a parking place. It was lovely: good food, conversation-friendly, good for the digestion dining experience. Music barely audible. We’ll go there again.

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7 Responses to The Quest for Quiet

  1. winnie barrett says:

    No wonder we have attention deficit disorder and increasing deafness.
    Life is way too loud.
    My home is in a quiet neighborhood, except the past 3 weeks while they’ve been re-topping our road. But I cherish our mostly-seniors community here. And they’re almost done.
    I’ve found a couple of quiet restaurants here in Asheville too. Come visit!

  2. Bob Jaeger says:

    Oh good, it’s not just me. And I had a similar experience at my dentist. Same story at Southglenn Commons—lovely outdoor spaces to sit and enjoy the day and a cup of coffee, but for the wretched speakers on every light pole. Not even turning off the hearing aids helps. I figured they were trying to drive me into the stores to spend money, and I never go there anymore. As for retaurants, try El Tepejuan in Englewood.

  3. Not to quibble, but there’s no such thing as silence. There is healing, organic noise—breezed leaves and birdsong, rain on a spring night, the chatter of water in a stream bed (talking in its sleep, no doubt), the drum-roll of distant thunder, and of course one’s own heart- and breath-beat. We want those sounds: the natural music of contemplation. It’s the brutal, non-organic noise that eats us alive. Silence, though—we’ll have plenty of that in the end. More than enough, in fact….

    • dubrava says:

      Which is why I did not use the word “silence,” because the absence of manmade noise is hardly that! To me “quiet” is calm, tranquil, but not silent. In fact, in my Floridian childhood, quiet was often filled with frogs and cicadas.It was never shattered by piped in, blaring music, however.

  4. I think I was quibbling with another commenter. Or I may be out of it from a lack of sleep. If I were drinking tequila I would have been preternaturally lucid and made clear what the heck I was driving at! 🙂

  5. Carol McLean says:

    Five stars!

  6. When my wife and I were in Switzerland recently, we discussed whether or not the bells Swiss cows wear bother them. I thought that they would be inured to the sound. Paula thought the racket would drive them crazy. I just learned that Swiss animal rights activists are campaigning to get rid of the bells! I learned it from this article on noise, which notes that Schopenhauer and Proust hated it. Proust lined his study with cork. Helped him remember the taste of that pastry, I suppose.

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