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Commentary: Quiet is requested for the benefit of those who have retired

By John Diers Jun 26, 2019

About a week ago, as we do on most summer evenings, my wife, Marcia, and I were out on our front porch discussing the issues of the day, the fate of the world and the failings of the younger generation. Retired septuagenarians do that sort of thing.

The porch is our natural habitat and one of life’s dividends. We love our little house on Pleasant Street, our front porch, our neighbors and neighborhood, our yard, the flowers, the occasional wildlife that comes calling, the ancient trees and the breeze that whispers by on a summer’s eve. Some call it a small-town feel. We call it home.

Our house is 110 years old. I say happy birthday, little house. William Howard Taft was in the White House when your first owners moved in. We talk about you and what you’ve seen and reflect on the 110 years that have gone by. Marcia goes back to childhood memories and her grandmother’s house and farm in Battle Lake. I talk about my grandparent’s house on West Minnehaha in St. Paul, my grandmother’s flowers, the wide boulevards, huge elms and Hamline-Cherokee streetcars that I watched going by from their front porch.

For us, it’s a quiet, reflective time — that is, until a motorcycle or car blasts by with a loud (or no) muffler or wide-open windows and a boom box thumping some awful beat. Or, like a week ago, we hear an explosion followed by a series of staccato pops and booms announcing the impending arrival of the Fourth of July.

Be it fireworks, boom boxes or noisy cars and motorcycles, Marcia hates noise. She was indignant and wanted to call the Prior Lake Police. I demurred, acknowledging the season but also the certainty that it was just a bunch of hormonal boys doing what boys do and, of course, remembering what I did on the Fourth of July all those many years ago. But she was insistent and had good reasons. Marcia was on a mission.

I paraphrase her speech and her argument, but it went something like this:

“Every year it’s the same thing. It starts about now and goes on all summer. Cherry bombs, bottle rockets and firecrackers aren’t legal in Minnesota. Let them buy them in Wisconsin or North Dakota. They can blow them up there. The same goes for the sclerotic geezers who roar around on their noisy Harleys. Get a Vespa.“

It was a persuasive speech. I wholeheartedly agreed, and she called the police. A short time later, she took a call back from the officer who’d responded. The explosions stopped. It was quiet. She thanked him. We noticed his police car stayed in the neighborhood for a while, presumably to make sure things settled down.

I share this because I’ve heard similar complaints from other people, not just in Prior Lake but elsewhere. Go to Google and you’ll find noise defined as an unwanted sound that’s perceived as unpleasant or annoying by the receiver. The keyword is unpleasant. Sound is energy and everywhere and inescapable— unless, of course, you don’t hear it — which, of course, is preferable when that sound is noise. We live in a noisy world. It’s why I’m happy I don’t hear as well as I did 50 years ago.

Noise is a nuisance. Go to the city of Prior Lake webpage and look under ordinances, specifically 605, Public Nuisances, and 605.1000, Noise. You’ll find several pages and sections and subsections that define and describe noise, its abatement and how and when the city enforces the ordinance.

Enforcement is problematic and inherently subjective. Imagine for a moment a police officer pulling over a vehicle with a loud muffler, taking out a decibel meter and pacing off the requisite distance to measure the level. The same goes for a bunch of kids setting off fireworks and scattering through a neighborhood. Police resources are limited and have to be saved and carefully allocated for emergencies. Noisy fireworks, loud mufflers or boom boxes are nuisances. They’re not the same as a car accident, a fire or a heart attack.

It’s all about common sense, courtesy and consideration of others. I’m reminded of a sign that was placed at the entrance to every Pullman sleeping car. I have one in my collection. It reads: “Quiet is requested for the benefit of those who have retired.”

Enough said.

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John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.