Sunday, 21 February 2016

Sound and (Car) Fury: A Note to CBC 180

Cap Haitien, 2006

It's happened again. I've been driven (er...) to write a letter to the CBC. This time to Jim Brown and co. at the Radio One program The 180. I often have the impulse to answer back to radio, and in the privacy of my own head, usually do. But only now and then do I write a letter. You'll find a couple more in the archives of this blog.

Here, I am responding to two stories: responses from a past episode on noise, and

crosswalk flag program

What keeps walkers safe? A West Vancouver crosswalk gets mocked online

Hello, Jim Brown et al.

I meant to write about whose responsibility it is to keep pedestrians safe, but I can't suppress (haven't tried) the first thought I had when I heard you ask what noise we would eliminate from our world if possible. Here's a 180: music.

Not all music, but unwanted music. We are bombarded with music today, and long gone is any thought of making it of a calming sort. (I was surprised to hear on CBC some time ago that when tested, people actually do find Muzak the most calming music, even though we profess to hate it.*)

I love music. I sing. Often. Many times a day, in fact. But I don't sing while shopping, while concentrating on writing, while having a conversation, and I don't like being forced to listen to musiceven music I would like if I was in the mood to pay attention to itwhen I am trying to do these things. I'm also out of sync with the tastes of the baristas and DJs of the world, apparently, so most of the music I hear, I really don't care for. I'm a person with jangling nerves. Not always, but certainly when trying to do three things at once, quickly so the person behind me can stop tapping their feet, trying to filter out noise really doesn't help. I'm also a person with enough hearing impairment that trying to distinguish what a friend across the table from me is saying is difficult even without the drone.

What a grump. (But golly, don't we love a soapbox?)

As for crossing the street. As a pedestrian, I regularly get annoyed or frightened by the antics of drivers who are either not paying attention or think their mission is more important than those of us on shanks' mare. On the other hand, as a human being I am well aware of the imperfections of my own attention, skill, vision, and of my complete ability to make a mistake. Being of a fragile organic nature I know that although I really love to be right, I would rather survive than go down under someone's wheels.

A few years ago I lived in Haiti, which was a real education in many, many ways, particularly around the assumptions I made because of the world as it appeared to be organized, growing up in Canada. One of the best things about Haiti was its approach to this topic.

At first it seemed to me that there were no rules, and I was petrified. People drove quickly willy nilly down the road, slamming on horns more often than brakes. On the main streets merchants lined the sidewalks and pedestrians picked their way through traffic in vaguely similar ways to unregulated roads here. But on narrow streets, crowded with small merchants sitting on the ground or on small hand-cut chairs with their wares on tables or in baskets around them, the situation was very different. I nearly had an embolism the first time I went as a passenger down one of those lanes. The driver did not slow down, and swayed back and forth around potholes in just the way he did on the larger roads. Chaos (to my eyes) ensued. Pedestrians fled, chickens scrambled, merchants grabbed their tables and got out of the way, and we bounced wildly down the road.

No one was hit.

I soon learned that in Haiti pedestrians are entirely responsible for their own safety, and so they have their eyes peeled. They don't arrogantly (or unawarely) assume they are safe or that the other guy needs to stand down. They get the hell out of the way and survive. People do get hit by cars in Haiti, of course. At that point the driver will do the fleeing if at all possible, as they stand a good chance of being beaten badly by the crowd. So it's in a driver's interest not to hit people.

It seemed to me at the time, once my hair settled down, that their system had real advantages (apart from the beatings), and I have been (in general) a much more pro-active pedestrian ever since. Which, in this era of deteriorating rode etiquette, is for the best.



* Wish I could track that story down, but I can't. At least, not easily.