by Michael W. Freeman

The Ledger – Lakeland, Florida

November 8, 2007

I was awakened around 11:30 one recent Friday night by a neighbor’s dog, barking loudly. When it continued, I pulled out a couple of earplugs, tossed them in, and rolled over and went back to sleep. It was an unusual occurrence, because where I live, it’s usually dead quiet at night: no dogs howling, no music or parties, not much traffic. This was the first time in months that anything had roused me from my sleep, save for one of my cats jumping on me around 3 in the morning, demanding heavy doses of affection.

I thought about this as I was reading a press release I had just received by e-mail, from an organization I hadn’t heard of. It was a group that had formed to combat what they see as a terrible fact of life in urban America: “boom car thugs.”

Noise Free America had sent out the release in response to an article in The Ledger, the parent company of The Reporter, about a Lakeland man who had become fed up with cars blaring loud music throughout his neighborhood. He ended up arming himself with a double-barreled shotgun to confront the guys playing the boom tunes.

Ron Czapala, an anti-noise activist whose e-mail address is, interestingly enough, [email protected], wrote in the press release that the Lakeland case “perfectly illustrates the frustration many people feel after years of being assaulted by vehicle noise from thumping bass and trash can mufflers. While most cities have noise ordinances to protect our right to peace and quiet in our homes and communities, enforcement is weak or non-existent.”

Czapala is right, and I should know. When I first moved to Orlando in 2002, I bought a home in a neighborhood that swiftly become a boom car nightmare.

It didn’t seem a likely candidate for a boom-boom neighborhood. It was made up of older ranch homes built in the 1950s, and most of my neighbors had lived in their homes since it was first built. When virtually everyone around you is in their 80s, you don’t worry much about pounding boom car music.

Then, within three months of my moving in, there was this mass exodus, as many of the seniors around me decided to downsize into smaller manufactured homes requiring less maintenance and with no yard to mow. Most of the people who bought those homes turned out to be those vile pests, the investor looking to flip it for a tidy profit. None of them lived in these homes; they rented to whomever they could get.

And let’s just say I learned the hard way that renters, particularly if they don’t expect to live there for very long, often couldn’t care less about neighborliness or being quiet. Suddenly I had four neighbors playing boom cars all night long. It was like an ongoing symphony.

I did plenty of complaining, but I noticed their trick was to turn the volume down, wait until you were back in your house, and then turn it up again. When I realized that enforcement was, as Czapala noted, a lost cause, I surrendered – and moved.

Not everyone can do that, though. I was lucky to be reselling my home in early 2004, just as Orlando entered its red-hot housing market, so I had it sold within a week. (Boy, remember those days?) Finding a new house was the hard part, because there was nothing on the market (Boy, remember those days?)

But I made sure I picked a neighborhood that wouldn’t be noisy, and it hasn’t been. I’ve been boom-car-free ever since

But what about the folks who can’t sell because the housing market has tanked, and are stuck living next door to a boom car thug? What do they do?

I can still distinctly remember trying to watch TV and hearing that abrasive, irritating and constant “boom boom … boom boom … boom boom …” for hours on end.

“Constant exposure to noise is incredibly frustrating and irritating,” said Ted Rueter, Noise Free America’s director, in that e-mailed release. “Noise takes away one’s right to peace and quiet. Noise causes intense aggravation. Noise can lead to violent confrontations.” He also acknowledged the risks of slack enforcement.

“The police in this country have responsibility to strictly enforce laws against disturbing the peace,” Rueter wrote. “The situation in Lakeland is evidence of the city’s failure to protect its citizens.”

In a time when Central Florida’s crime rate is skyrocketing, I can already hear the police say they have bigger fish to fry than teen-agers playing their car stereos too loud, and if you’ve been one of this region’s unfortunate victims of a violent home invasion, you undoubtedly agree.

But I would have had an easier time accepting that argument a few weeks ago, before Orlando’s vice cops, the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation, launched a criminal probe and subsequently arrested several sales staff members at the Orlando Weekly newspaper for selling escort ads that the MBI said are a cover for prostitution rings.

The MBI made a fairly compelling case, that escort ads in publications like Orlando Weekly or Web sites like Craig’s List can led to violent confrontations when the prostitutes and their pimps wait for the unsuspecting “John,” then pistol-whip him and rob him. Church groups have made similar claims that pornography and organized gambling also lead to terrible social ills.

Fine. So when are we going to acknowledge that Noise Free America is also right, and start enforcing anti-noise ordinances more vigorously to avoid similar violence over those awful boom cars?

“Lakeland, Florida joins the ranks of many other cities and towns across America that have fallen victim to violent confrontations with thumping boom cars,” wrote Mike Smith, another anti-noise activist. He’s right.