by Michael Paul Williams

The Richmond Times-Dispatch

August 28, 2002

The thump of car stereos punctuates East End nights and rouses W.C. Wooldridge from his sleep.

We’re not talking Frank Sinatra crooning from a Philco radio. This is music as seismic event, rumbling heavy hip-hop beats from loudspeakers so powerful they “shake your utensils and your glasses,” he said.

Wooldridge, 72, says the bass is so reverberant that it sounds like “folks riding around with tom-toms in the car.”

“It makes no sense,” he says. “All day. They never stop. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! . . . That noise runs me crazy, now.

“And in the morning, 4 o’clock in the morning. I’d have just gone to sleep from one that went by around 2. Soon as I go to sleep, here comes another.”

Wooldridge has diabetes and is rec! overing from a stroke. He’s undergoing therapy. He needs his rest.

He says the vehicles are particularly loud on weekends. “It traumatizes me. Then you wake up. You can’t go back to sleep.

“I can’t survive like this. Sometimes they make so much noise at night that it makes me sick to my stomach.”

I hear you, Mr. Wooldridge. A lot better than I used to.

You see, back in the day, I liked music a bit loud myself. Even today, I find myself cranking up my relatively anemic truck stereo.

Coming of age in the rock- and funk-drenched 1970s, we liked our music loud.

The more ambitious among us would plant a pair of 6-by-9-inch Jensen speakers behind the back seat and purchase a “power booster” to pump up the volume of the old eight-track.

That Camaro, Trans-Am or shag-carpeted van became a nightclub on wheels. A gathering in a McDonald’s parking lot was a “Soul Train” line waiting to happen.

But we were never this loud. ! And at some point during the past two decades, treble got kicked to the curb.

Nowadays, no serious system is complete without two 12-inch subwoofers. Never mind that the result submerges the music in a deep sea of bass-heavy distortion.

When I’m mystified by trends, I consult my twentysomething nephew.

What’s up with the boomin’ systems?

“It’s just to draw attention,” Raymond said.

“Some people love hooking their cars up, like with TVs. . . . It draws attention from girls, and some people just love that loud bass.”

This approach isn’t for my nephew, an old soul in hip-hop clothing. “I don’t really like all that noise, all that rattling, all that bass. . . . It makes my head hurt.”

Such cacophony caused a bit of a public relations headache earlier this year for officials in the city and Henrico County.

The locales received a “Dirty Dozen” award from Noise Free America, a California-based political action group, “! for tolerating and encouraging extreme levels of noise.”

The award celebrated a local “epidemic of boom cars, loud exhaust systems, and loud pipes,” said Ted Rueter, the organization’s executive director. The area, he said, is “the headquarters of Circuit City. NASCAR races are everywhere. It’s a miracle that anyone in Richmond gets any sleep.”

Even before receiving this dubious honor, the city had amended its noise ordinance to include car stereos. Infractions carry a maximum $50 fine.

How many fines have been doled out is unclear. “We do not track noise violations,” said police spokeswoman Christie Collins.

But police aren’t enforcing the ordinance enough to suit Wooldridge.

“I think they could break*’em up,” he said. “If they would write them tickets, they could break*’em up.”

Of course, we realize police have their hands full with other matters. So you fellas with the loud cars: if we can’t appeal to your sense of decency, ! how about a pitch toward your self interest? If folks can hear you coming a half-mile away, think of the havoc you’re wreaking on your ears.

Better to turn down the music now, by choice, than to turn it up down the road out of necessity.