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Boom Cars

Yelling at boom car drivers or passive-aggressively involving the police seems like a losing proposition. Boom car drivers are people, too.

By Novella Carpenter

According to my favorite Internet slang dictionary, Word Spy, a boom car is a vehicle "equipped with an extremely powerful stereo system that is being played with the volume and bass levels turned up and the car windows rolled down." If you've never heard one, you must live on a small island where cars aren't allowed; I just heard one as I was writing this sentence. Of the noises made by cars, this one elicits the most hatred, mostly because it is absolutely unnecessary--car alarms might work once in a while, honking can be justified--but a deafening stereo system is just plain selfish. At times it can be deadly, even. In an article in Wired magazine, Jack Boulware reported on a Ford Bronco tricked out with a stereo so loud that if you were exposed to its full 150 decibels, you would go deaf instantly and "the force of the sound waves would liquefy your bowels, and you would die." The owner of the Bronco? A 65-year-old schoolteacher named Mrs. Gates. She began the odd hobby of ultrastereo "racing" in order to give her teenaged son a positive thing to do.

Positive is relative, but it's what Pioneer promotes in its web ad-movie, Disturb. The ad profiles three guys who have spent up to $40,000 dollars on their thumping stereo systems. The ad's message is that these guys don't care about people who complain about their cars, they welcome it--it makes them feel special. One of the men argues that working on his car kept him out of trouble. The ad ends with scenes from a boom-car warehouse party, with various girls dancing, indicating that if you have a boom car, you'll get the ladies.

NoiseOFF (noiseoff.com), an organization comprised of citizens across the country who are working to fight noise pollution, calls this web movie "disgusting" and the "most blatant example of irresponsible corporate marketing ever produced." Never mind big tobacco, I guess. The group urges people to boycott Pioneer because of this ad campaign and another that tells people to "Disturb, Defy, Disrupt, Ignite." Pioneer isn't the only company. Other stereo system advertisers like Sony and JBL often use aggressive phrases like "Shake seats, annoy neighbors" or "Turn it down? I don't think so."

NoiseOFF offers a few solutions, but it and other anti-noise groups often take an us-vs.-them attitude about boom cars. Don't they remember being young and foolish once? NoiseOFF's solutions include petitioning the city to start enforcing noise-pollution complaints and writing citations, and it warns people not to approach motorists in boom cars because "most of them are belligerent." I would argue the best thing to do is to actually approach someone who is a chronic boom-car driver on your street, and simply to have a dialogue with them about their car. Ask about the system--why they do it, how they did it--then interject that it's a little too loud. Yelling at boom-car drivers or passive-aggressively involving the police seems like a losing proposition. Boom-car drivers are people, too.

This being America, lawsuits will probably prevail as the No. 1 way to fight boom cars. This month, a St. Petersburg, Fla., woman filed a suit against a boom-car enthusiast in her neighborhood whom she claimed was causing her high blood pressure and heart pain. The woman prevailed when the youth, cowed by his court summons, apologized and dismantled his system. Lawsuits against the manufacturers of boom-car equipment seem like the logical next step.

Here we are, at the beginning of the 21st century: our society has devised cars that are equipped with screeching alarms that don't work, our hands lie millimeters away from a bleating horn and our noisy stereos don't respect the sound boundaries of others. In my opinion, all three of these car-related disturbances spring from one source: a sense of helplessness. Because driving is inherently passive, drivers feels desperate to take some kind of action. Noise pollution is, finally, the scream of our own powerlessness.


Scream at Novella Carpenter at novellacarpenter@yahoo.com.

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From the December 29, 2004-January 5, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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