The Hum of the City

Sound is the heartbeat of a thriving city: people, sirens, and the movement of traffic on streets and rails. When we first arrived in Chicago, these sounds were jarring, but now they feel normal and comforting. There’s the morning rush hour sound that starts while it’s still dark; the endless stream of vehicles headed for the highway; the announcements of buses and trains at each stop gathering countless quiet workers. Evening rush hour seems louder. Street musicians crowd onto downtown corners – marimbas, guitars or drums. Crowds of tourists, maps in hand, chatter and gape as they navigate Michigan Avenue.

Weekends hum, but with a different rhythm. Crowds and traffic build during the day. Major streets seem like Christmas time near a mall with bumper-to-bumper traffic headed for shopping, and pedestrians thick on the sidewalks. Sports schedules influence the ebb and flow of sounds as people pack neighborhood bars to watch the games. In any weather, you can track the progress of the Bears/Bulls/Blackhawks/Cubs/Sox by the cheers and groans of the fans.

Some city sounds stand out. Neighborhood festivals come with music – throbbing bass that makes your organs buzz. Concerts at Wrigley Field I can hear perfectly from our roof. The thumping of multiple music acts at Lollapalooza spread out in front of my office building. The distant popping of weekly fireworks from Navy Pier. The terrifying roar of fighter jets as they head to the lakefront for the Air and Water Show. But at least these events are scheduled and generally have a prescribed end time so that people can sleep.

Parties on the large roof deck across from our previous condo were, unfortunately, a continuing surprise and aggravation. There are countless disclosures when you sell a property, assurances that your home isn’t filled with asbestos or lead, that the systems are in good operating order, and the roof isn’t leaking. But there’s no guarantee against noisy neighbors. Sure, that neighbor building is a rental and who knows what the occupants will be like, but the mere presence of a large roof deck should have set off alarms bells: “Party deck! Party-deck!” The first time they had a party, it was impossible to ignore. Loud music, people crammed onto the deck swinging their red Solo cups, shouting, singing. No amount of glaring at them across the alley changed their behavior. And not even the church bells chiming midnight, or later, tipped them off that perhaps people have families, children, jobs to get up for. Fortunately, they didn’t have the guts, or perhaps, the money, to throw a party every weekend, but it was a potential risk to our weekend sleep all summer long.

We’ve moved to another neighborhood, and no longer face a party deck. Most of the units in our building have a terrace or balcony though, and warm weather draws us outside. Grilling or sipping a cocktail with the occasional conversation drifting up. Sure, some people carry on as loudly as if that balcony was part of their living room, and we’d rather they step inside. But mostly, it’s a great place to relax and listen to the hum.


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