Columnist Steve Pokin says he had to move to the high ground outside Tie & Timber to be able to escape the loud background music and have a conversation. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

OPINION |

With increasing regularity, when I go out to dinner, or I meet a friend for a beer, I can see their lips move but can’t hear what they’re saying.

That’s because the background music is too loud.

For a while, I would try to guess what they were saying.

In hindsight, for years I ran the risk that someone I thought was a friend might have been telling me I was an idiot — as I smiled vaguely and nodded my head.

But I can’t take it anymore. Now, I routinely ask an employee to turn down the music.

Is there no refuge from 80’s classic rock?

Last week I met a former News-Leader colleague at Civil Kitchen on the downtown square. He was moving to Texas for a new job.

Only a few customers were present. The background music was booming when my friend arrived. He already is a soft talker.

At times I had to guess what he was saying.

I asked the waitress if she could turn down the volume. To the best of my knowledge that didn’t happen.

So we moved to outdoor seating.

Next, we moved again to get farther from the dreaded outdoor speaker.

Is there no refuge from 80’s classic rock?

Anne Baker, one of the owners of Civil, tells me she doesn’t think the volume is excessive.

“We don’t keep our music too loud, where it will be damaging to the ears,” she says.

Most patrons, she adds, don’t like an environment as quiet as a library.

Having some background music is helpful because people also don’t like to sit down to eat where people a few tables away can hear their conversation.

How was the food? And how loud was it?

I’ll admit my hearing is off — specifically when there is an infusion of background noise, whether it is multiple conversations going on around me or the ever-growing volume of background music.

But I’ve done a little reading, and I’m not convinced this is an age issue. For the record, I’m 69.

How about college students? Where do they find a quiet coffee house these days?

Did you know, for example, that the food critic for the Washington Post routinely mentions the decibel level of the restaurants he reviews.

A Jan. 28, 2020 story in Popular Science states:

“Ear-weary customers everywhere are asking the same questions. In the past decade, noise has risen to the top of annoyances in Zagat’s annual Dining Trends surveys, beating out poor service, bad food, and high prices.

“Restaurant critics in America’s major cities tote decibel meters to their meals. Apps like iHearU and SoundPrint help people vet their choices and share the results.”

Seeking sound refuge at Tie & Timber

I recently met a friend at Tie & Timber, one of my favorite places in the Ozarks to grab a beer and talk.

First, we sat just outside the indoor area, under an extended roof.

I couldn’t hear what she was saying.

So we moved farther away from the speakers to a table in the outdoor area, under the strings of lights.

Still, annoyingly loud.

We then decamped and moved to higher ground — to a table at the far end of the property near the railroad tracks.

If this hadn’t worked, I was prepared to move to the far side of the tracks hoping to avoid the railway detectives who patrol the right-of-way.

I don’t want a source to have to shout at me

It doesn’t matter if I like the music or loathe the music. Why does it have to be so loud that it makes conversation difficult?

As a journalist, it seems the number of public places to meet a source and actually hear what they are saying is dwindling.

The last thing you want as a journalist is for the source to have to scream across a small table — over the din of “Don’t Stop Believin'” — the most tragic detail of their story.

“And then I opened the pantry door, and there was the dismembered body!”

The acoustics of a bomb shelter

Weeks ago, my wife and I were on vacation in Valparaiso, Indiana. Our friends took us to a cool place for lunch: the Pavilion Restaurant & Grill. It’s on the beach of Lake Michigan in Indiana and has a stunning view.

Unfortunately, like many restaurants and bars, it was not built with acoustics in mind.

Blasting background music in some of these places is like attending a live Slayer show in a bomb shelter.

“HOW HAVE YOU BEEN?”

“WHAT?

“YOUR EARS ARE BLEEDING!”

I asked the waitress if the background noise could be turned down. It was.

No shirt, no shoes: How about ‘no background music’?

I’ve read stories that suggest some businesses increase the volume of background music to increase table turnover, which increases profit.

(I’m imagining “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles at 110 decibels.)

But for me, as Global Noise rises with Global Warming, I will pay less attention to signs that declare: “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

I’ll be looking for ones that say: “No background music.”

This is Pokin Around column No. 64.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin