Call me Mr. Wilson. That’s fine.
But I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be able to sleep in my own home on Friday and Saturday nights without hearing clearly the lyrics and thumping bass from music being played a literal mile away until well after midnight.
This, however, seems to be the new normal in Starkville if you live anywhere near downtown.
A weekend ago, in the immediate aftermath of the governor’s announcement that the free market should decide who gets COVID-19 without government interference, the party got started downtown just after 11 p.m. Friday. It sounded like an outdoor DJ cranked up the volume to max to make sure the whole town could hear it.
After about 30 minutes, and complaints from my wife and all three daughters who couldn’t sleep over the din, I called the police. The dispatcher was very nice and helpful, but she informed me rather nonchalantly the noise was coming from a certain business (she named the business, but I won’t do that here), as if to say, “so there’s not much we can do.” She also told me an officer had already visited the business about the noise but would do so again. About 10 minutes later, the music was turned down.
I spent part of the following day speaking with city leaders, who basically told me our noise ordinance — which is enforced between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in residential zones — evidently is somehow trickier to apply to a downtown commercial district that is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. When I checked Twitter, I discovered I wasn’t the only one upset or asking city officials about the problem.
Fast-forward to this past Saturday. At about 9 p.m., a live band cranked up at a different business downtown about a mile from my home. No big deal. It was still going at 10. Obnoxious, but still nothing absurd. At 11, still going. Now I’m getting upset, though I’ll admit my focus at the time was more on my March Madness bracket, which was floundering at the hands of Abilene Christian.
Just before midnight, with the band still blaring, I again called my friends at SPD dispatch via the non-emergency number. This time a man, also very friendly, told me what business it was and said an officer would go by to make sure everyone was following the rules. The music stopped at 12:15 a.m.
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad we are hopefully nearing the end of this pandemic and can start having more events again. I’m also aware of the vital role tourism and our transient 18-to-22s play in keeping our local economy growing. I sincerely cannot wait to get stuck in traffic on Highway 12 again on a sellout game day weekend or my wife reminding me to avoid Walmart on Mississippi State move-in day. Because those are indications things are working like they should, and we all badly need that feeling to return.
But, as a tax-paying resident, I have a right to sleep peacefully in my home in the wee hours of the weekend. This shouldn’t be tricky or hard. It should just be understood.
That seems to be the balance discussion often with my city — how much and in what manner its policies accommodate both the student population/tourists and the long-term, established residents. It’s a healthy debate and one that should continue to adjust and evolve.
The last two weekends have shown me this debate is tilting too far in one direction, feeding our newfound ability to gather en masse over residents’ right to live inside their home in peace. Concerts and parties are fine, as far as I’m concerned. But if I choose not to go, I shouldn’t be brought there anyway. I mean, I didn’t even pay the cover for crying out loud.
And for policy to assume that noise generated from a commercial district stays in that commercial district asserts an understanding of science on par with drinking bleach to get rid of COVID.
Living in Starkville can sometimes resemble being a member of a functioning, loving family that also takes you for granted. Or like one of those blended families where the visitation child shows up every other weekend and says/does whatever they want regardless of the normal rules that apply to the children who live there full-time. Then when one of the resident children summons the courage to ask, “What the hell, Dad?” the answer comes, “We want your brother/sister to like it here. This is just how it is.”
I propose more of a John Stuart Mill approach: You have the right to play your music as loud as you like, as late as you like, up until the point the sound reaches my ears inside my home after 10 p.m.
Zack Plair is managing editor of The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]