Has anybody ever bothered to ask air travelers whether they want CNN to be blared into airport waiting areas? No, this is not a jealous attack on a competitor. Even though I work at CBS, I like CNN a lot. Really. Some of my best friends work there. Really.
But I want to reserve the right to decide when and where and how loudly I hear their reports. The worst is when you are at the airport very early, say 6 or 7 a.m., someplace like Miami. The waiting area is almost empty. You are alternately dozing, reading your newspaper, and sipping a cup of coffee in the sweet silence. Suddenly you are blasted out of your plastic seat by CNN airport news. You flash a startled look at the airline employee standing at the nearby desk. "I know," she shakes her head, "we can't control the volume. Isn't it awful?" You nod and try to mop the spilled coffee off your suit.
Or say it's at the end of the day. You've just finished a 12-hour grind, sped to the rental car drop-off, and raced through the jam-packed airport to your gate only to find that the plane has been delayed for 45 minutes. You start to look for a quiet place to sit, as far from the TV noise as possible. But then you realize that just when you get away from one monitor you are in the territory of another, forced not only to wait but also to be as uncomfortable as possible while doing so.
And, unfortunately, the CNN airport assault is a mere a droplet in the tidal wave of sound pollution that is doing to our ears what second hand smoke in public places used to do to our lungs.
A few weeks ago I entered the gym at a posh New York hotel and was hit by a blast of music. There was no one else in the place so I found the tuner, turned down the volume and started to enjoy a pleasant interlude on the treadmill. Just as I was starting to work up a nice sweat, an attendant walked in, turned the music back up to an earsplitting level, and disappeared. "Pumping up" at the health club is not supposed to be about the stereo. "No pain, no gain" does not apply to one's ears. As I left the gym, I stopped to register a complaint with the manager. "Oh," he shrugged, "that's just the way we do it."
Why? Why? I wanted to scream. In fact I want to scream that every time I get into a New York taxi and hear Joan Rivers, or, yes, even my beloved CBS News Sunday Morning Anchorman Charles Osgood, tell me to buckle up or to take my belongings with me and get a receipt. Isn't it enough that the seat is filthy and there's trash on the floor? Do I also have to hear a lecture?
How many good meals have been ruined because the restaurnt staff insists on playing the Gypsy Kings so loudly that you wish you were in Romania? How often have you walked out of a clothing store because the wannabe-cool sales people are blasting sounds that not even the mother of a band member could love? How many times have you hung up the phone because you can't stand the insult of being forced to listen to terrible music on top of the injury of being put on hold?
And back to air travel. I used to consider it annoying when the pilot saw himself as a jet propelled tour guide and kept announcing things like, "If it weren't so cloudy you could see St. Louis and the Rocky Mountains, and our route will take us over Denver but we'll be up too high for you to see that and for anyone who's interested, the Lakers are up by 4, and did you know this is a 737 and I'm Captain Jack and your flight attendants are Skippy and Sherry."
But now we are forced to listen to previews of movies and short subjects in case there are any of us who can't read the flight guide. And on one small airline we got a half-hour commercial for the Caribbean hotels owned by the same people who own you guessed it that airline.
So, what can we do? Maybe instrasystemic subversion? Anyone out there who knows anyone who's in charge of volume control on anything can beg them to go down a few decibels one week, a few the next, a few more, and on and on until the noise disappears just as subtly as it arrived.
Or complain. Tell every airport official, every airline employee, every pilot, every restauranteur, every business owner how much you despise having your peace shattered. We'll all have to make a lot of noise if we want to get back our silence.
Maybe you have a better idea? Sorry, I can't hear you.