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Can't We All Get Along?

August 21, 2008 - John Whittaker

Excuse the Whitless Wonder if he's a little cranky this morning.

You see, after drifting off to sleep at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, some really nice, considerate people on the south side of Jamestown decided that 3 a.m. would be a nice time to fire off some firecrackers.

After I checked my shorts (they sound a little like gunshots, you know) I tried to go back to sleep, but I never did really get back to a nice sleep like I had before.

Then, after I took the News Gal to work, I had a couple of hours to go to sleep, but Mr. Loud Stereo Guy drove around the block serenading me with gut-busting bass. So, I just showered, made a pot of coffee and went to work.

It got me to thinking, though, about some other people we all know and love who make life, um, interesting. Please note, though, that this is a different discussion than the one surrounding noise levels and downtown events. In that situation, within limits, you need to have life and some hustle and bustle in your downtown area. If you don't have noise and people doing things, you downtown is dead.

It's a different story in residential areas, though. Without further ado, here is our cast of characters:

1. The Burners. Bonfires were nice when I was a kid and lived in the country. After moving into Jamestown, however, and being away from wood smoke for a few years, smoke makes my eyes water and makes me feel like I sat in a smoky bar when I wake up the next morning. I have three people in my neighborhood who love wood smoke, for some reason. One of them would light a fire and go in their house for hours on end, coming back outside only to put more wood on the fire that they weren't sitting next to. The great thing about that is, the way my house is built, when two of them burn their wood, the smoke gets sucked through my front window right into my closet -- meaning a certain Whitless Wonder gets to spend the next day doing laundry! I thought it was just something you deal with, until a friend of mine told me such fires are against the city code. Isn't it common sense, though, that burning wood for hours is probably a bad idea in areas where the houses are 10 feet apart in a spacious neighborhood and are generally old, balloon-style construction? Are we trying to torch off the Great Jamestown Fire of 2009?

2. Mr. And Mrs. Drunk and Disorderly. About two years ago, I was sleeping at about 2:30 a.m., on a weeknight, because I had to get up for work the next morning, when two people started screaming on the street outside my window. This isn't news. Then, I heard a bottle thrown against a car -- so I poked my head to the window to make sure they weren't hitting my car with their bottles. What I saw next was almost funny. The couple continued arguing outside my window when the man takes off down a side street. The woman, in the car follows him, jumps the curb and hits him. Then, it's 10 minutes of her screaming at him to get in the car before the cops come and they take her to jail for DWI. After she gets him in the car and takes him to WCA Hospital, it's time for the cops to show up. On the plus side, the really good infomercials are on at 4 a.m. Fun times! But it's not like this was the only time other people's parties have messed up my cabbage patch.

There are groups walking up the street yelling and screaming jokes at each other all the time. Before they moved, a house near mine hosted parties most weekend nights on an upper-floor enclosed porch (the windows don't keep noise in when they're OPEN!). Other people will come home from the bars at 2:30 a.m. and sit in their vans with their stereos blaring, because we all want to listen to Guns and Roses for hours on end in our sleep. Do you have a problem when you hear other people's music in your dream? That's happened more than once.

Having a good time is fine, but, again, come on. Some common sense - just because you're out partying, that doesn't mean other people aren't trying to sleep so they can go to work the next morning.

3. The Fast and the Furious Kids. Let me get this off my chest -- I loved the first Fast and the Furious. Vin Diesel was great and the shots in the film were unbelievable. That doesn't mean pieces of the movie need to make their way into my neighborhood. First of all, if you have a 10 foot long car, you don’t need a stereo you can hear from the International Space Station. Trust me, the factory sound system is fine. When you're deaf in 10 years, don't go asking for a free hearing aid. You did this to yourself. Is it really necessary to drive your $1,500 stereo system (and you know what I mean) down Foote Avenue at 6 p.m.? Frankly, if you can spend $1,200 on a stereo system for your car, you can afford a better car.

And, these cars come with the most obnoxious exhaust systems known to man. Exhaust systems are designed to make the car QUIETER, guys. And, if you have to have the car, can you not sit in your driveway in the winter at 10 p.m. making it make chainsaw noises? I love chainsaws -- in the middle of the bloody woods or in a Friday the 13th movie, not at 10 p.m. when I've got to get up for work the next morning.

4. 5:30 a.m. Garbage Pickup. (Fair Disclosure: I like the BPU. I like cheap electricity and I hope to continue heating my house with electricity because it makes it affordable to live here.) Is there any reason my garbage has to be picked up at 5:30 a.m. on a Tuesday? Is there sense to this? There's nothing better than being in the middle of my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees (Jeter slides over to second base. Trust me, it all makes sense) when I get woken up by tin cans being thrown into the back of a garbage truck. And, when the truck backs up, I swear it sounds like my alarm clock. Tuesday mornings are a lost cause for me.

5. Bob Vila. There have been times that I look forward to rainy day and a foot of snow. Home improvement is one thing. Obnoxiousness is another. Can there really be a reason for some projects taking entire summers, especially when it means you have to run a POWER SAW right outside your neighbor's dining room window. I had the News Gal and her parents over for a Labor Day cookout last year, and, in the middle of our barbecued chicken, potato salad and polite conversation, someone decides it's time to start up the saw and hammer on an outside project for the next three hours. I was used to it -- by then it was an every day occurrence. It kind of sucked for guests, though. Can't you buy pre-cut lumber now? The last time I had to build something, I went to Home Depot, asked for X number of boards that are X-by-X, and, you know what, they CUT THEM FOR ME. I didn't have to bug my neighbors cutting stuff right outside their window for six months out of the year. And, my project got done a lot faster, because I didn't have to measure, then measure again, start cutting, swear loudly, re-measure, cuss again because I can't cut straight (not even paper with scissors), and then have to go to the lumber yard for more wood.

Or, there are the people who wash their car outside with their garage stereos blaring. Taking care of our cars is great - and you have to do it in this area or your car will be a pile of rust and stereo parts in a year. But, is there any need for me to have to hear it on the other side of my house, over a baseball game/NASCAR race, at 3 in the afternoon? Really? That's really necessary? The soap doesn't work unless the dial is turned up to 11 like your Spinal Tap? The bubbles magically make all the dirt go away, but only if the music sounds like you're in the front row of a Motley Crue concert? Next time I take the News Gal to a Gary Allan concert, I'll bring my scrubbing bubbles. Car washes on the house!

Where's The Civility?

We can't turn out stereos down or drive our cars in ways that don't turn other people's hair gray or make it fall out nine months before a wedding? We need to be told it's wrong to shoot off fireworks at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday? People really don't know they shouldn't be: A. Driving drunk B. Screaming at each other outside at 3 a.m., or C. RUNNING EACH OTHER OVER WITH THEIR CARS. There's ambiguity here? Squealing my tires at a stop sign or putting a five-inch wide exhaust pipe on my car is annoying to other people? That's news to me!

I studied pre-law in college before I fell in love with life in a newsroom. One of the thing studying constitutional law teaches is my rights end where your rights begin. That's a two-way street, though. Other peoples' rights also end where mine begin.

That might sound like a great theoretical argument. How does it work practically, you might ask?

Living in an apartment, dribbling a basketball in my house probably is a no-no -- even though I really need to work on my ballhandling. I haven't turned on my stereo system in months, and will probably sell off my speaker system I thought was great in college but that, in adult life, isn't really practical. It's just too much - the speakers come up to my shoulders. I can't stand to turn it on anymore, not to mention the people underneath the bass ports at the bottom of the speakers. It's time for something smaller.

Come to speak of it, I probably should always make sure the exhaust system on my car works, since, coming home at midnight three days a week, I'm sure people would love being woken up by a loud car. It's fine now, but an old truck I had once wouldn't keep patches on the exhaust system. It'd be quiet for two days, then loud until I had time to temporarily fix it again. Finally, I had to break down and have someone fix it for good. I'm sure my neighbors appreciated that.

Every now and then, we get letters from people saying how thankful they are for the random acts of kindness people perform -- someone stopping to help change a tire, people going above and beyond for a stranger, that type of thing. We have gotten letters from people thanking their neighbors for being understanding, for pitching in when they're unable to handle things, for just being nice people.

Shouldn't that be the norm?

Instead of helping our fellow man, it's like we do as much as humanly possible to make him angry at us. Are we really beyond the point, as a society, that we can't be selfish to the point of p___ing other people off?

Is it possible for all of us to come back from the edge of the me-first cliff?

Or, have the people who gave an inch lost their patience with people who have taken more than their mile?


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Vin, my man! Loved you in The Fast and the Furious and The Pacifier - YOU DA MAN! Could you, uh, put a decent exhaust system on your car, though. I just got the kid to sleep....