by Jonathan V. Last

The Weekly Standard (online edition)

March 1, 2002

Ted Rueter is trying to rid America of noise. Shush!

UCLA, home to grown-up child actors and proto-Tri Delts, is a very noisy campus. There are street sweepers and leaf blowers, car alarms and lawn mowers, and a mercilessly loud game room in the student center. “That’s why I left,” says Ted Rueter.

Rueter was a political science professor at UCLA until he was driven away by the noise. Since those dark days he has relocated–to the “quiet,residential community of Davis”–and undertaken a crusade. Ted Rueter wanted a quiet country, so he logged on to The Right to Quiet Society, a list-serve in Vancouver, and announced that he was going to fight the noise. Thus, Noise Free America was born.

NFA is the only activist national anti-noise organization in America, and its members think big. Rueter’s group claims that noise is “a serious threat to health and safety,” and is responsible for increased blood pressure, headaches, low frustration tolerance, ringing ears, loss of sleep, sexual dysfunction, and immune-deficiency problems. They say it’s even bad for your heart: “Noise levels above 70 decibels increase the risk of heart attacks by 20 percent.”

So they’ve planned a sweeping assault on noise. The NFA legislative wish list includes:

-“No motor vehicle or motorcycle shall emit an electronically amplified sound plainly audible beyond ten feet from its source.”

-“The installation of electronic amplification equipment capable of generating noise beyond a specified decibel level within a motor vehicle shall be deemed a misdemeanor or better.”

-“Any motor vehicle or motorcycle issuing excessive noise or noises shall be subject to immediate impoundment.”

-“The sale and use of all gasoline-powered leaf blowers shall be prohibited.”

-“The sale and installation of electronic ‘car alarms’ shall be prohibited.”

-“A broad-based public education anti-noise campaign, with particular emphasis on an anti-noise curriculum in the public schools, should be implemented.”

-“Each state’s governor shall appoint an anti-noise coordinator.”

And if you think that’s tough, you should read the original, no-compromise list, which called for jail time for owners of “boom cars” and a bounty system rewarding people who turn in the license plate numbers of cars playing loud music.

Their personal checklist is even more comprehensive, asking citizens not to use leaf blowers, keyless entry systems, or power hedge trimmers. “Keep your car windows closed,” they urge, if you are using your car stereo, and “use your horn only in emergencies,” “do not announce your arrival at someone’s house by honking.” Their suggestions even reach into the home: “Use washing machines and dish washers only after 9:00 A.M. and before 9:00 P.M.” and “use voice mail instead of an answering machine.” They also encourage folks to go out and buy a decibel meter to “monitor noise levels in the establishments you frequent.”

And like all movements, NFA seems to be collecting its fair share of quiet eccentrics. Randy Throckmorton–whose e-mail handle is “noisewarrior”–is currently at war with a Henrico County, Virginia, grand jury over “noise terrorism.” Throckmorton’s property abuts a church that uses outside speakers to amplify its music and services, and a car wash frequented by boom cars. They combine, he says, to create a “terrorism of noise day and night.”

After being mired in the courts for eight years, Throckmorton has taken matters into his own hands. “I’ve taken to using chainsaws in the backyard,” he says, to get back at the church. And he has risked his life trying to record the goings on at the car wash. One night, while he was videotaping a bunch of gang-bangers and their boom cars, the hoods approached him with weapons. “If it wasn’t for my pistol with a night-sight in my back-pocket, slim would have shot me right then and there,” he says. Since then, he’s had to go to the mattresses. “I’ve got a house with cameras, videos, motion-sensors, guns, a $1,200 ballistic vest–I’m at war here.”

Michael Wright is another rebel, whose site is devoted to cataloguing the noise offenses of boom car aficionados and the companies that make their stereo components. He’s even taken the time to write an anti-noise anthem, “The Boom Car Blues” (“I hear that old freight train / A-ramblin down the track / But the boom car boys / They’re like a stab in the back”).

NFA’s goal is to bring the noise-oppressed together, to coalesce and create a lobby that can someday do away with every last bit of extraneous noise, from boom cars to back-up beepers. It sounds hopeless-but, as they say on their web site, “Forty years ago, most people laughed at the notion that second-hand smoke was dangerous. Now it’s an accepted fact, and virtually every state and locality has restrictions on smoking in public.”

And for all of their anti-noise belligerence, Rueter’s group has a point. “Noise destroys community,” NFA says, “and that’s not ‘progress.’ On busy streets, near major airports, in night clubs and bars, and in stores and restaurants, noise makes conversation difficult or impossible. Noise reduces human interaction.”

Rueter feels he has a mission. “The gods sent me to Los Angeles to get upset about noise pollution and find my calling. Fighting noise is my passion,” he says with a laugh.

Ted Rueter stands athwart modern American life and says, “Shhh.”

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.