Ask anybody to describe New York City living and the word "noisy" will probably be mentioned. New Yorkers have found many ways to describe noise to make it seem less "noisy." They talk about the "soundscape" of the city, or how there's a "hum."
Me, I used to tell myself (and anybody who would listen) that you get used to it and it eventually all becomes white noise. Then I moved to an apartment overlooking 141st Street and Convent Avenue in the historic Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Harlem.
The street I live on is narrower than most. It's wide enough to have two-way traffic, but no parking is allowed on either side. It's a quiet-looking street, lined with trees and townhouses. It's also on a steep slope. Heading east, down the hill, you will pass the Hamilton Grange--Alexander Hamilton's mansion--resting at the north entrance to St. Nicholas Park.
However, mine is the only street with at least five blocks north and south that cuts all the way across town. Which means it's the logical route for crosstown fire trucks. And I can tell you they use it a lot.
There is nothing quite like hearing sirens at that volume level, punctuated by the cacophonous blasts of their horn every single time they approach the intersection. The sound goes through your entire body.
And of course, police sirens are rarely far behind.
Don't get me wrong. I love the FDNY as much as the next New Yorker. I like that their station is so close by on 139th and Amsterdam. It gives the area a stronger sense of community when the station’s garage door is open and you see the firemen hanging out, or washing the truck, or when you bump into them at the local supermarket. But a fire engine or two charging down my street right when I'm about to fall asleep? That I don't like.
Oh, and while it's not a busy street otherwise, of course the big tour buses, the school buses and every kind of truck apparently all know this is the only through street for a number of blocks, so they all use it, too. Usually, this isn't an issue. But every once in a while, you get some decrepit sounding vehicle revving it's engines, trying desperately to make the climb up the hill.
So, how's that for a "soundscape"?
Still, I won't be moving anytime soon. Despite it all, you do get used to it. You don't stop hearing the sirens, but you eventually learn to fall back asleep more easily.
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