Sounds of Silence Increasingly Rare

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If silence was golden, you couldn’t raise a dime.

— Mose Allison

That line from one of my favorite blues singers, now gone, came to mind the other day while filling up my car. As soon as I swiped my credit card and punched in the billing zip code, a small video screen built into the pump lit up. The Gasoline Pump Celebrity News began broadcasting, with a young woman seated in a television studio breathlessly telling me what famous star was getting a divorce, or getting married, or possibly both. One can’t even buy gasoline with a screen shouting at you.

If it’s not celebrity “news,” it’s some guy pitching fuel additives that will improve mileage and extend engine life. For just $4.99, the additive will immediately flow into the tank as I fill up. This raises suspicion in my semi-cynical psyche. How would I really know the additive is going into the tank? It’s not like I can see it. If I actually believed such concoctions worked, (I don’t) I would run down to an auto parts store and buy a bottle. Then I would know for sure it was being added.

However, I only enter an auto parts store under duress, since it is virtually impossible to get out of one in less than 15 minutes. Usually, there are several people behind the counter peering at computer screens, then disappearing into the bowels of the store, while I am utterly ignored as I hold a set of windshield wipers. I guess I just don’t look like the type of person who belongs in an auto-parts store.

It is difficult to go anywhere now without being bombarded by noise. Climb into a big-city cab and a screen mounted into the back of the front seat lights up. I always turn it off, preferring to look out the window and take in the sights. Go into any waiting room — tire store, doctor’s office, car dealer, wherever — and there will be a monitor mounted on the wall. If it’s playing Fox News, I either change the channel, turn it off or go sit outside on the curb. My preferred channel to ignore, as I read the book I invariably bring to a waiting room, is HGTV. It helps lower my blood pressure.

I was walking a few weeks ago in a small town, visiting on business. It was early morning, a lovely, crisp late-autumn day. As I approached the town square, I could hear music. None of the stores were open, and the courthouse appeared to be shut tight. But speakers attached to the courthouse were playing music, to an audience of crows and squirrels — and me. I couldn’t fathom the necessity of playing recorded music outside, especially to an empty square.


I am not opposed to listening to music or the news. Far from it. When driving, I either listen to National Public Radio or satellite; I haven’t listened to commercial radio in years and don’t plan to resume the habit. When working out in the gym, the walls vibrate to either classic rock or hip hop. It doesn’t matter. We just need something loud to keep my mind off the torture we pay good money to inflict upon ourselves.

At home, when working in front of a screen, there is almost always something playing in the background, whether it’s NPR or Spotify. I can read or write with music playing, something some folks just cannot do. Chalk it up to decades working in newsrooms with a scanner blaring, phones ringing and folks talking. The difference is that I’m choosing the playlist and not having it foisted upon me at the gas pump, in the waiting room, or in the backseat of a taxi.

Maybe I’m just getting grumpier as I advance in years. That’s certainly a possibility.

Cuz your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime.

— Mose Alison

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