by Sarah Morin

Bloomington (Indiana) Herald Times

June 24, 2007

It was the fall of 1998.

That’s when bass-thumping stereos really started in Bloomington, said Phil Worthington. And so did his sleepless nights.

“It came in like a tidal wave,” Worthington said.

Most of the loud stereos, often called “boom” because of the deep pulsating sound that emanates from them, came back with returning college students.

Worthington recalled the early boom days last week as he stood in front of his avocado-colored house created to mimic the leaves of the Red Maple tree and variegated dogwood. He’s proud of his garden of Annabelle hydrangeas, several different tomato plants and broccoli that overlook the student rentals across the street.

For years, he’s worked to recreate the peace and quiet of his garden inside his house, to stave off the sound of nearby 17th Street or as he likes to call it, “Boom Boom Alley.”

Each night before his head hits the pillow, he inserts ear plugs and swallows a sleeping tablet to help ensure sleep.

He’s coated the interior walls with sheetrock or plasterboard. He’s ordered 2-inch polyurethane foam panels to insulate his corner bedroom that rattles and shakes from a boom-by.

“I’m cocooning myself in from my neighborhood,” Worthington said.

Worthington and other local residents have raised concerns over the boom and overall noise complaints with city officials, framing it as a quality of life issue — disturb the peace, disturb the people who want it. In fact, Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan said he’s heard more about this issue than any other since taking office in 2004.

Kruzan announced this month a city campaign to combat boom cars as well as enhancing enforcement of the noise ordinance.

Noise complaints target both mobile boom car stereos and stationary loudness in someone’s house or yard.

Whether on wheels or not, the boom packs a punch, Worthington said.

“It penetrates your walls,” he said. And the body.

The bass wave jolts below the skin, so much so that Worthington compared the experience to a heart attack or being pounded on the head with a hammer.

The boom car is more powerful but fleeting.

“You can’t stop the boom cars. It’s mobile and temporary and then it’s gone,” Worthington said.

Parties with boom stereos and speakers are easier targets for police.

‘Pump it up, keep it up’

For years, Worthington has committed himself to problems faced by home owners in popular student rental areas, especially noise. He moved into the house near Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall in 1985.

While he’s happy the boom problem is now on the city’s agenda with an education and enforcement component, he said it should have been addressed years ago when it was just a “pothole issue.”

He said he’d given up on any sort of change until he read several letters to the editor in The Herald-Times that shared his beef with the boom. So he hopped back in.

The business of boom cars is a national issue as major corporate interests represent the industry, said Ted Rueter. He calls it the “noise industrial complex” that promotes an antisocial attitude and behaviors, giving examples of “pump it up, keep it up” and “Turn it down? I don’t think so.”

Six years ago, Rueter started Noise Free America to help fight it. The group is dedicated to campaigning against noise pollution, especially from boom cars, car alarms, leaf blowers and motorcycles.

Rueter, who used to live in Monroe County and teach at DePauw, said cracking down on boom cars not only lowers the noise disturbance but is a “great way to find, uncover the criminal element.”

“The police should set up check points, undercover operations to catch them,” said Rueter, who now lives in Wisconsin.

What about civil liberties?

“There is no constitutional right to make noise,” Rueter said. “Noise leads to deterioration of communities.”

And the boom car has company, Rueter said. The vroom car is the new thing, and unlike boom cars can’t be turned down. The car boasts a loud exhaust system; when the car’s on, it’s on.

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