What's Your Beef? Not So Quiet Riot

Phil Knight

Decades ago, when I first lived here, Bozeman was pretty quiet. I could sit in my yard and enjoy a peaceful evening.

I could hear and feel the spirit of this Valley of the Flowers. Places do have a spirit – an essence if you will – built on their history, geology, biota, location, rivers, climate, human community, and all the ways these things interact. The Gallatin Valley has a particularly powerful and benevolent spirit, but it is being crushed by development, pavement, traffic, and yes, noise. The spirit here has gotten very hard to hear.

Why do people need to make so much noise? Is there a major screw loose in the human psyche? Is the noise worse in Bozeman than elsewhere?

As Bozeman grows, so does the overall noise level. Banging, pumping, thumping car stereos, howling engines, roaring motorcycles, screaming, whistling diesel engines…it goes on day and night. At 3 a.m., I can hear what sound like car races on West Main Street. WTF is going on?? Who stays up to 3 a.m. to race cars in city streets? Where are the cops?

From my perspective, noise takes a big bite out of quality of life. My wife and I like to relax in our back yard, enjoy the sounds of birds, the wind in the willow tree and the gurgle of the creek. We both are big fans of peace and quiet. But that is a rare commodity. The racket is taking a toll on our health.

Bozeman’s noise regulations prohibit “raucous noise or any noise which unreasonably disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of reasonable persons of ordinary sensibility.” This regulation is a joke since it is constantly broken and never enforced. Just try to get the police to respond to a noise complaint.

Excessive noise is a serious health problem. According to Brainfacts.org, “When someone experiences a stressful noise, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus immediately signals the adrenal glands to pump adrenaline into the bloodstream — an evolutionary measure to react rapidly in life-threatening situations.” This physical response triggers high blood pressure, depression, a spike in heart rate, not to mention loss of sleep and an overall drop in wellbeing.

I often have to rise at 3:30 in the morning for work. Most of the day I drive tourists around Yellowstone. I need to be rested, alert, and generally happy to do my job safely and well. Getting woken by pointless loud noise detracts from my work, my alertness, the quality of the tour I offer. It could even be dangerous were I to fall asleep at the wheel. Sure, I use ear plugs to sleep when I can. They don’t always work. I can’t use them when I have to wake to an alarm at 3:30 a.m.

A few nights ago – several days after the 4th of July – a neighbor lit noisy fireworks at 2 a.m. behind my house. Of course, I woke up immediately from a deep sleep, trying to make sense of what sounds like gunfire or mortars going off outside my window. There goes any more sleep for that night as I lay there and thought of all the ways to get revenge on this moron.

For mental health, I do get away to the wilderness sometimes to soak up peace and quiet and natural sounds, to try to find some tranquility. Without the peace of the backcountry, I would go bonkers. But it’s getting more difficult to find a really quiet place, with more people everywhere on public lands, plus the challenge of hiking far enough back to find a place that is not already occupied.

My home has streets on 3 sides. As I write this yet another noisy car or truck is speeding by, its driver revving its engine. People seem to use their vehicles to express themselves, and much of it appears to be rage and aggression.

Many motorcycles are far louder than they need to be. This is another BS macho thing – look at me I’m a big man because my machine makes tons of noise. More likely you are a retired accountant who rides your Harley on weekends. And I don’t want to hear the argument that motorcycles need to be loud so they don’t get hit. If you can’t be safe on the road without all that noise, then you don’t belong there. And let me guess, you don’t wear a helmet for safety because “freedom.”

There’s a junker SUV that roars through my neighborhood several times a day and makes so much noise it is guaranteed to stress out every person who is forced to listen to it. For what? Why would anyone do this to their neighborhood?

Autos come with mufflers for a reason. If you have ever driven or ridden in a car that lost its muffler and tailpipe (I have done so, not by choice) you know how deafening an engine is. But a factory muffler does a pretty good job of damping down engine noise.

So what do people do? Modify muffler systems to make MORE noise. We’ve all heard the shrieking little Mitsubishis or Toyotas or Kias that sound like some kind of giant fart or evil screaming trumpet. This is intentional noise, designed to make a statement. Just what is that statement? To me it says, HEY I AM A HUGE JERK WHO CARES ONLY ABOUT MYSELF. LOOK AT ME. LISTEN TO ME. I HAVE NO REDEEMING QUALITIES. I cannot help but make assumptions about the political beliefs of these people. And don’t even get me started on car stereos.

There are all kinds of ways to make your car or truck engine louder and more obnoxious, such as sound systems that amplify engine noise. For $10 you can get a “turbo sound whistle” to install on your car or motorcycle exhaust that will make your vehicle “sound like a turbo charged vehicle.” Spend more money and you can get some very sophisticated systems that assure your car is louder than anyone else’s.

Montana has no motor vehicle inspection requirements, so you can register the worst piece of crap and legally drive it – even lacking a muffler or tailpipe, or intentionally modified to be super annoying.

I realize not everyone can afford or has access to a quiet, well-tuned vehicle. I have driven some junkers myself. I also love to listen to music when I drive around, and sometimes crank it up a bit. But to intentionally make as much noise as possible is just plain ignorant.
We are pounded with enough unavoidable noise as it is, from trains, jet aircraft, helicopters, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, construction noise, big trucks, lawnmowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers, barking dogs, late night drunks, arguing neighbors, etc. Why add to this already nearly constant noise?

Are people really so bored, frustrated, angry, and amped up they can’t express themselves more creatively and quietly than with a roaring pickup truck? Is this what macho has become – a lame and incredibly obnoxious display of consumption and unneeded racket? There is nothing macho about it – only pitifulness.

Come on folks, chill out. Ease back the commotion. Try some consideration and care for your neighbors. There are plenty of people out there who hate having to deal with your random acts of stupid noise and suffer as a result – those who are elderly, disabled, very young, stressed, sleep challenged, have PTSD from war and other terrible events, and are just plain easily startled.

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