by Ken Becker

The Vancouver Sun

December 7, 2002

For the weary traveler, there is probably nothing as aggravating as being kept awake by constant noise, or jarred from sleep by startling sounds in the middle of the night.

Many people have found themselves in a hotel room where the guests next door are having a party, red-lining the volume on their televisions, or trying to break the sound barrier in the pursuit of passion. This can occur in a road-side motel or a five-star resort.

“You can spend $200, $300, $400, $500 a night for a room, and it still does not guarantee you an uninterrupted night’s sleep,” Eric Greenspoon of Noise Watch, an Ontario-based group, says from his home in Guelph.

Most hotels respond quickly to a call for help to the front desk. But there are other circumstances that can trap the unsuspecting guest on unfamiliar turf: those who discover their room faces a major highway, is off a busy railway line, or in a night club district where it’s round-the-clock happy hour.

“We had a running battle for one whole summer with a club across the street blasting its music,” says Marlin Keranen, general manager of the Holiday Inn on King, in Toronto’s late-night club area. “We even had some guests call the police. This year, they had a change in management and we seem to have worked things out.

“Still, between 2 and 3 a.m., when the clubs are closing, there’s a lot of yelling and screaming. But since our guest rooms are all on the ninth floor and above, and the windows are sealed, it’s no problem.”

Some cities enforce anti-noise laws more strictly than others. A couple have recently taken a serious no-nonsense stance. New York, the city that never sleeps, has launched Operation Silent Night, cracking down on horn-crazed drivers, noisy nightclubs and drunks howling at the moon.

“Blaring music from clubs and car stereos–loud and unruly bar patrons – the roar of speeding motorcycle engines and the din of honking horns all come together to create the sense of disorder,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in announcing the police crackdown in October.

Charleston, South Carolina, which promotes its Old South charm and civil citizens, has adopted a tough code on so-called quality-of-life issues. Recently, a judge in the city’s new Livability Court ordered a young man to pay a hefty fine or remove the amplifier from his truck – from which he blared music in the landmark Market area.

“Here, we rely on tourism to a great degree,” Judge Michael Molony told the accused. “When folks like you come down here and disrupt the peace and quiet of the city, why should I show you any leniency?”

The accused opted to unplug his stereo.

The right not to be assaulted by gratuitous clamour is also being championed by a growing number of lobby groups across North America. “But it’s going to take a concerted effort by the travelling public to demand change,” says Ted Rueter, founder of Noise Free America.

Hans Schmid, president of the Vancouver-based Right to Quiet Society, says he once stayed at a motel called the Quiet Place, near Hope. “Yes,” he says, “it was in a nice, quiet area. But the walls were paper-thin. And I could hear absolutely everything going on in the next room.”