There is a scene from in movie Grand Canyon where Danny Glover plays a tow truck driver responding to a call for roadside assistance. Kevin Kline plays the financially successful and clueless white guy who made the call. When Glover arrives at a dark, remote area, Kline is surrounded by a group of young black bad-asses on the verge of doing some serious harm.
Scoping the situation upon arrival, Glover steps from his truck holding a crowbar, no match for the gun in the lead gangbanger’s hand. Glover is casual and tries to negotiate the situation. The young’un flexes and says something about Glover not respecting him. Glover concedes his respect. The young’un challenges Glover’s sincerity and says the only reason Glover respects him is because of the gun in his hand. It’s a tense moment. After a pause, Glover calmly speaks the truth –“If you didn’t have that gun, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” They allow Glover and Kline to leave unharmed.
Life imitates art.
I live across the street from a beach on Chicago’s south side. Between me and the water’s edge sits Lake Shore Drive and a city parking lot that ostensibly serves the beach. Unfortunately, the parking lot has become an after-hours al fresco destination for young people, who show up nightly around 11 PM and party until 3 AM. Some nights the festivities are so loud that my curiosity demands that I see first-hand what the hell is going on. One time I saw a young lady putting charcoals on a grill at 1 AM – she was starting the grill at one o’clock in the morning!!
Some nights the parking lot is like a casino floor crawling with people casually strolling, drinks and joints in hand, from car to car. There’s tailgating and boom-boom woofers stirring it up from many vehicles. And that’s the problem – for me and my neighbors – the loud music, more specifically booming basses that rattle our windows and vibrate floors and beds. These streets and buildings were not built to accommodate the earth-shattering vibrations created by such 21 st century sound technology.
We, my neighbors and I, have made numerous complaints to our alderman and local police units. They tell us to just call 911 as many times as we need to. Sometimes a patrol car or two arrives and shuts it down. But most often, the commotion resumes 30 minutes later with a new group unaware of what preceded them.
I’ve gone out there more than a few times to beseech the young’uns to ease up on that bass. My hair is mostly white, I’m 70+, and I take on a stereotypical southern black granny’s stooped posture and speaking style.
“Excuse me, baby; this sure is a nice car. Whose is it?” From there, I go into a light-hearted but poignant bit about “that bass. Could you just ease up on some of that bass, baby?” My Mississippi grandfather used to say, “need mo’ make you do mo’,” so I skin and grin’ and Tom my ass off just for the sake of some peace. Sometimes older men, the 40-somethings, challenge that I can hear their music “way over there?!” So I explain that they didn’t build these roads and buildings for such powerful speakers. They tend to buy it. Some apologize as they comply with my request; others thank me for not calling the police.
This night music has been going on for a while, but the last three years have gotten worse. I’ve walked away from a couple of such encounters, my gait slow and blasé, but I’m praying the whole time, pleasedon’t shoot me, please don’t shoot me.
Sometimes I do call 911. But most often, I try really hard to live and let live, understanding that the revelers are young and clueless and mean no harm. I wear noise-canceling earphones, crank the A/C, play music, and watch TV later than I want to, waiting for the rumbling to subside. I try going Zen with it – it’s just sound, I tell myself, it’s just sound. Breathe. Let it go. But none of it works, so just as I feel like I’m about to cry, I get dressed and go out there. “Excuse me baby, is this your car?”
Something’s different this year. This season’s first encounter put me face-to-face with a young woman who cussed me out and told me to take my ass back to wherever it came from. I decided that was it; I’m not going out there this summer. I’m calling 911. But last night was again one of those nights. The party started around 10:30 PM; I endured it until a little after 1:00 AM and called 911. Two squads came, and there was blissful silence for all of 40 minutes.
So at 2:50 this morning, I went out there, just in time to see a patrol car tell the youth to “turn it down,” then a U-turn and leave. There were two culprit cars. I decided to engage the group closest to me; a dozen or so rowdy young’uns are having a ball:
ME (big smile): Hey, who’s the deejay?
YOUNG GIRL (surly): Why? I say something she misunderstands.
YG: I can’t turn it up; he (the cop) said he’d tow it if I didn’t turn it down.
ME: Oh no?! I notice I cannot “hear” the music, but the bass is going through my body. Everyone freezes, with all eyes on me.
ME: It’s the bass, boo. (I imitate the repetitive bass, and they laugh.) I don’t hear no lyrics, no voices, or nobody talking, but I feeeeel that bass. My bedroom is right there, and I can’t sleep. I could just pull back some of that bass, and I’m good.
Surly girl is the” leader.” She sucks on a huge glass bong that looks like a penis, literally. She does not smile, takes her time sizing me up. Long pause. All eyes on her. I keep smiling kindly.
ME: Please, baby. Just ease up that bass. YG: All right, mama, I gottchu. ME: Thanx, suga’.
I smiled and Tom’d my old ass back across the street as the Danny Glover scene came to mind. The potential for danger; the gravity of words chosen wisely. She kept her word. I finally got to sleep just after 3 AM.
These summer nights are more than annoying. They adversely affect the quality of life for those of us who are not part of the party: like the two mature residents currently fighting cancer; families with school-age children; folks that have jobs in the morning. My blood pressure spikes nightly. I’m chronically sleep-deprived. I can’t get out of bed before noon, which sabotages my productivity and right to greet mornings well-rested. Each night also brings the fear of gunfire.
I truly believe the revelers are unaware of the consequences of the sound technology. A subscriber of the concept “if they knew better, they’d do better,” I endeavor to enlighten. Ninety-five percent of the time, I get the desired results. But the percentages are against me – I am an army of one senior citizen. The majority of my neighbors don’t call 911 for myriad reasons – these are exact quotes: – I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. – I figure someone else will call. – I just take Nyquil PM, and that usually knocks me out. – I wear earphones. – It’s not going to make a difference. – I hate the police.
The degree to which we as a society tolerate dysfunction is so unhealthy as to be life-threatening. What can be done? Who is to blame? Who should fix our problems? To quote MLK, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” And yet so few seem willing.
Dawn Renee Jones
Dawn Renee Jones is a native Chicagoan. Her professional writing career began on Madison Avenue where she wrote ad copy for a broad range of national products and agencies. Dawn Renee lived Minneapolis for two decades where she worked on film projects with Prince (Purple Rain, Graffiti Bridge), and produced and directed music videos for Flyte Time Records and other Minnesota music artists. In recent years her work has focused on writing for theatre and teaching theatre courses at Columbia College Chicago.
Photo credit: Jacob Boal