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Advertise on the Tentacle

July 18, 2002

We Are The Maddening Crowd

Norman M. Covert

Mayor Jennifer Dougherty's infernal noise ordinance must be targeted, despite her denials, at the sin-city enclave on Jefferson Street. Its passage didn't do anything to bring about a cease and desist order on noise in my block.

Come 7:30 on a Saturday morning the audible noise begins. So much for the bucolic, quiet ambiance of Frederick. Neither secured windows, nor doors, can keep out the persistent high decibel of lawnmowers, edgers, blowers, chain saws, shrub trimmers and the like. Some years ago a bumper sticker proclaimed that Frederick was "Far from the Maddening Crowd." Well, not any longer.

Mizmayor, one would suppose, is trying to answer the mail from the residents, who might have voted for her and whose homes are hard by the lineup of commercial business properties along Jefferson Street. Once again, though, this is selective governance, the tail wagging the dog.

This may rate alongside former Mayor Paul Gordon's infamous rumble strips on Baughman's Lane, a short-lived experiment in speed control. He laughs with us about that, but the neighbors expressed their outrage and the strips ground down. That action, in contrast, resulted from hasty meetings, while Xhale went through the entire nightmare of planning and zoning commissions, public hearings - the City Hall experience.

The noise of traffic is louder on Jefferson Street than any band at Xhale, which has been in the entertainment business at that location more than nine years. It operates within the zoning restrictions, and has valid business and liquor licenses, for which it makes extraordinary effort to restrict sales only to those over 21.

To its credit, Xhale also has regular "under 21 nights" where bands play and young adults can sip sodas and be entertained. Management even allows the occasional "new band" to debut on the small stage when few other opportunities exist for hopeful and talented young people.

The problem at Xhale isn't the noise so much, but unruly patrons. Stories have been reported about drunks wandering into private yards and leaving all sorts of debris. That's a policing problem, not a noise problem.

Some of the so-called music these days is so irritating and noisy that it's no wonder the neighbors are complaining. We hear the pounding bass emanating from cars, rattling the windows of nearby buildings. Somewhere from within the blast of sound intrudes the yelling of an ethnic "artist" shouting a succession of one-liners spiced with profanity. Now that's noise!

At this point, there must be grudging acknowledgment that when my teen music (Rock 'N Roll) burst on the scene about 1954, the churches were full of rhetoric damning this "Devil's Music" and saying it would cause the ultimate demise of a generation. Now you hear some of that music in elevators, not all, understanding that Chuck Berry and Little Richard weren't exactly crooners. I can see in the mirror what Rock 'N Roll did to me!

Like today's musical expression, Rock 'N Roll became a line of demarcation setting our generation apart from the adult genre of that time, which on Dick Clark would have been given a "D" rating because it didn't have a good beat to which we could dance.

In my home town in 1955, a small movie theater was surrounded by policemen and placard-carrying ministers when Elvis appeared as part of a show that featured rising new Rock 'N Roll "artists." The rumor was started that Elvis had been arrested, was smoking "dope," and attacking innocent young girls. None of that was true, except that he did have to run a gauntlet of young women, who nearly stripped his clothes.

The deep-throated roar of a Harley motorcycle doesn't irritate me like that alleged music pouring from open-windowed vehicles today. There is no less discomfort when I stand in my front yard on any given night and hear trucks roaring down Route 15 and street rods taking off from the highway on-ramps. That just overtakes the night bird sounds and the bugs darting off my porch light.

With respect to Harley's, they have always been a fascination for me. My neighbor owns one and is most considerate. He fires it up without excessive revving and takes off up the street in a civilized manner. Last weekend, he was even more considerate, bringing in a collection of 10 Harleys ready for the open road.

The hogs' brunch visit was made more palatable because the biker girls aboard were pretty, well-preserved "Babes" and they wore appropriate outfits for keeping the male neighbors interested. The lawnmowers kept on droning but no grass was being clipped.

For sheer noise, my solitude is interrupted many times throughout any given day by the State Police medical evacuation helicopter making its way over the city or en route to Frederick Memorial Hospital. Not even the choppers arriving at Detrick rival the Dauphine's whine on its mission of mercy. I understand that noise and what it means.

Then there is the President's U. S. Marine Corps Sea Stallion helicopters ferrying the White House Staff to Camp David. The formation flies a route along I-270, then U.S. Route 15N to the camp along Catoctin Mountain Park's Central Road. Count on that overflight on Friday afternoons and Sunday afternoons - or anytime in between.

With Mizmayor's insistence, it is understandable that the police officer in the Xhale parking lot must carry out his assigned task at 100 feet. He must listen for the sound of music and if he hears it, write a citation to the owner. For "fairness," the police now have cited the owner of Lucas McCain's Saloon and the Bentz Street Raw Bar (probably heard from Jennifer's) for audible noise.

With all the exceptions in the ordinance, it's a sure bet that Xhale owner Stephen Walker will take the excessive citations to court, then win on appeal and the city will wind up with the noise ordinance costing it more than the threatened suit over the Ten Commandments Stone.

Selective policing and targeted legislation is not the answer at Xhale. The noise ordinance is a flawed political document and the entire process is another embarrassment for the City of Frederick.

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