I plopped into my seat at a popular chain restaurant, eager to catch up with the family members with me, but the music blaring from the speakers in the ceiling made it impossible to conduct a casual conversation.
The loud acoustics, rather than providing a backdrop for soothing dining atmosphere, made it difficult to even hear the waitress recite the specials.
As I shouted, “How was your day?” to my mom, I glanced around at the other customers who were all leaning in close, hands cupped around their ears.
I asked the waitress to turn down the tunes and she accommodated the request, but I wondered if I was the only person in the room who was aggravated by the racket or if I was simply the only one who bothered to ask for it to be turned down.
Even a person who is hard of hearing would be tempted to plug their ears in a place like this. I know my hearing is acute or so I’ve been told by many a student, one of whom would play a high-pitched note from a cell phone during class when I was teaching. When I instructed the prankster to turn it off, he said, “But you’re too old to hear that!” The entire class burst into laughter — right along with me. I was too amused at that point to scold the boy who’d created the interruption.
With technology’s increased presence in schools, there’s always noise — bells ringing, phones beeping, fire alarms chiming, audio broadcasting from the internet. Someone’s always being buzzed in or out. In shopping malls there’s music piped not only into the corridors, but each store along the route, often even into the restrooms where I used to be able to sneak off for some peace.
Have we become so accustomed to the noise that we just accept its interference with even our dinner conversation? Perhaps the management of such establishments mean well. Maybe they are bowing to customers’ demand for music that shakes the very table they’re eating on. Maybe they feel they must entertain us. They could be right.
Televisions had lined the walls of the restaurant I was in, and most people’s gazes wasn’t into each other’s eyes, it was anchored to the black box of virtual reality.
Granted, on game day, I’d expect a boisterous group of high-fivers to slam back a few and shout “Hurray,” but this wasn’t game day, and I want to hear the people I’m silently breaking bread with. Some soft music, a bit of friendly waiter chatter, clanking glasses to commemorate a toast — all good with me, but when the Sirius XM channel shakes my inner ear hair loose, I cringe.
Occasionally, I blast “You Shook Me All Night Long,” on my car radio and scream along with the lyrics just because I want to. I watch a TV show like “Outlander” for the sheer fantasy it transports me into, but I don’t live in the radio or in the TV. I relate to the characters’ emotions and life situations for entertainment and a tad of introspection.
The more time I watch actors playing their roles on the media stage, the less time I have to play in my own scenes, to create and conquer my own dilemmas, percolating the adventures I’m hungry to experience in a pleasantly, quiet restaurant, of course.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio.