by BJ Neblett
Walking around town I’ve come to an embarrassing discovery about myself. It seems I am the only person in
without a back pack, cell phone and I-pod. Actually I have a cell phone which
spends most of its time in my jeans pocket, and I’ve been carrying the east
coast equivalent of the ubiquitous back pack, a black, officious looking
briefcase. Still, I remain the only one without something to occupy my ears.
This is ok. Part of the fun of urban life is the sound of the city. Having
spent some thirty plus years in broadcasting, I suppose sound is as important
and natural to me as breathing. Seattle
Sound is what gives a city flavor. Cities speak to you. You can judge a city’s character by the complexity of its language.
has traffic, and traffic means
horns. No one can make a car horn talk the way a New York City cabbie can. Then
there are the street performers and sidewalk peddlers. I was partly raised in
the heart of New York South Philadelphia. Along South
Street every store has its own pitch man, nattily dressed and pacing like a
hungry tiger. Hawking their wares like carnival barkers, they extol the virtues
of Big Mike’s Deli Sandwiches – each with a kosher pickle; or a
suit from Ben Krass – Store of the Stars. Their precision patter, always
at maximum volume, has a lyrical, sing song quality, hypnotizing and enticing.
Public transportation lends a city its own unique voice. A subway doesn’t sound like a street car which is different from a trolley which will never be mistaken for a monorail. In Philly, the clang of the trolley bell, much like the city itself, tolls with sober authority.
’s cable car bells have a much happier and
friendlier ring. The differences are subtle, but there. San
Unfortunately, it’s not just ambient sounds that people have switched off. We have tuned out each other as well. I blame air-conditioning. Before Freon and other noxious gases, we cooled our homes with clean fresh air. Open windows brought in cool breezes which carried with them more sounds: Mrs. Delmar next door summonsing her errant children; Tony D’Agistino and Bobby McNab arguing politics; Phillies baseball drifting up from the radio at the corner candy store; Tommy and Johnny and little Lisa playing tag. More than just noise, these are the pulse and heartbeat of a city; the sounds I miss the most.
Once we started closing our windows we began to close important links, links that turn areas into neighborhoods and neighborhoods into communities. We stopped listening to our neighbors and soon stopped talking to them as well.
I haven’t quite discovered all of
special sounds yet. Perhaps my ears are still functioning on Eastern Time. But
I’m listening. I am sure they are out there. And I’ll bet the Seattle
resounds with a distinctive sound track that is as charming and beautiful as
the city itself. One just needs to remove the ear buds and turn off the cell
phones and take the time to listen. Emerald City
You can keep the back packs.