Maybe It’s Just Me

Well! I think I have my routine at restaurants down pretty well. Here’s how it goes.

I enter.

I am seated.

I look at the menu.

I get a boring beverage like water or Diet Coke.

Then I ask the waiter or waitress as nicely as possible, since I am semi-screaming already, “Can you please turn down the music?”

You see, it’s deafening in there. Hell, it’s deafening everywhere these days. I think they want it loud, because that shows a place is happening and successful, full of people screeching important things at one another, their voices ricocheting off the concrete, their silverware clattering, their goblets overflowing, their laughter raucous and high-pitched.

And the music? Jesus, the music. I have no idea what it is, since I am a musical dolt, the kind of person nobody wants in a happening restaurant, especially in the Live Music Capital of the World. All I know is, the music is ear-splitting, pulsating, relentless. It assaults your ears, it vibrates through the floors, it takes up cacophonous residence in your head like one of those old Excedrin commercials.

“Can you please turn down the music?”

I say it nicely. Firmly, but with a breezy we’re-all-in-it-together bonhomie. Surely the waiter or waitress is sick of it, too. Weary of all the screaming and pulsating and aural gyrations, trapped like a rat in a lab experiment testing how much racket it takes to make a rodent non compos mentis. Surely!

Sometimes, yes. Yes, of course, the music will be turned down! Pronto! Bien sur! Oh, and do you want your water sparkling or flat?

Sometimes, no. Rolled eyes, subtle smirk, just a soupcon of ageist condescension. “We’ve already turned down the music once,” a waitress announced recently, which made about as much sense as a filthy child telling you he just took a bath last week, so what are you freaking out about, you old bat?

But never mind. I am getting a headache. I am tired of being patronized and deafened. I don’t care how great the food is. I am already looking forward to leaving, to that transcendent moment when we step outside and the roar subsides and our ears cease ringing.

My husband and I muse about a restaurant that would be perfect for people like us, people our age — a quiet and hushed space with soft music, bigger lettering on the menus so you can read it in the candlelight, servers who are respectful but not overly unctuous, who like us because we’re polite and presentable and not overly demanding and we always tip 20 percent unless they’re total dicks. Oh, yes, the kind of place where the hum of quiet, intense conversations and shared and muted laughter — which is music to me, music I do appreciate — lingers in the background.

This isn’t the Early Bird special — not yet, anyway. I prefer terms like quiet and sophisticated and elegant.

But then (I lecture myself), I don’t want to get too hyper-sensitive, too defensive about this whole aging business. I don’t want to assume a waiter or waitress isn’t thrilled to serve me because I am of a certain age and bitch about the volume; maybe it’s really because I’m a Sagittarius and a left-winger. I want to be open-minded, after all. Open-minded to the point of porousness.

But then (I go on), maybe this is all how it happens as you get older. The world gets louder and faster and more frenzied. Or maybe it’s always been that way and you’re finally noticing it, you’re finally falling just a step behind.

So what do you do? You speed up, of course. Apologize when you slow the pace. Push yourself more. Ignore the loud music; pretend you love it; beat your foot in time to it; grin like a half-wit.

Good grief, who are you kidding? This isn’t enjoyable. This is uncomfortable, this is hard work. To hell with trying to catch up with the loud, spinning world, you decide peevishly; you will go your own (increasingly poky) speed and let it blast and spin and gyrate past you. You will take your business and go elsewhere (where? you don’t know). Good riddance; so long, suckers; don’t forget to text.

But — niggling questions sprout like weeds. Is this how you grow old, withdrawing a little more each year from the world? How often do you keep venturing into the world and asking to be accommodated (turn down the music, slow your pace, quit mumbling)? How often do you just suck it up and hope nobody notices? Were you really there and does it count if you always leave early? What’s the difference between being a realist and a surrender monkey?

My husband thinks I take things too hard, analyze them too much, overreact. I have no idea what he’s talking about. Just because the music is too loud and I’ve been launched into a full-blown existential crisis — you call that overreacting?

We’ll have to talk when we finish our meal and go outside.

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about grammar, punctuation, and life




26 comments… add one
  • I always love your posts, but this one especially. Getting old is hard. I hate loud music too. Just be glad you don’t have teenager b/c if you had to go into some of the stores they shop in your eardrums might explode.

  • I hate loud restaurants. Makes the whole experience miserable. Hard, but easy to clean, walls and floors make the noise environment worse. Some soft carpets and curtains could do wonders.

  • I don’t get the loud music in restaurants either. We are fortunate to have a few places to eat where we chew to a different beat. Charlie Parker, for instance. Last week the host came over to our table and told us proudly that he had recorded the tape over the winter. There was one song that made me want to get up and slow dance with my husband, with the host, with the man at the next table. Anyone who felt like dancing. It had my body swaying so languorously. (I hope someone from a younger generation will explain, in the comments, why music in restaurants needs to be so loud.)

  • Mike Schillhahn Link

    I have been known to send an email/fax/smoke signal to the owners of offending establishments letting them know it was so loud I most likely would never come back to dine and spend money. Hasn’t done much good, but it does make me feel better….

  • Yes! Hence my penchant for take-out.

  • The quicksandwich of time and the whirlpool roar of decline.

    This is the age of Antiquarians.
    It’s not so much us sinking, rather the passage of time rising around us to envelope us in modern grime, slime, and crime.
    It has probably always been this way, and we have reached the age where, as you say, “we are finally noticing it.”
    For my own part, I have resigned myself to being a curmudgeon, and rail at this modern age with its absence of consideration and grace.
    I have no solution, other than to go down fighting.

    “Better to die standing up than to live kneeling down!” La Pasionaria

  • Ruth! Just when I think you can’t outdo yourself, you go ahead and outdo yourself. This may be my favorite post of yours to date.

    I, too, am not a fan of loud music in restaurants. Aren’t we supposed to be able to talk to the other people at our table? Isn’t that was dining out is partly about? Do people not talk to each other anymore? Is that what this is about? Maybe they’re texting each other at the table and have no need for actual voices.

  • Sorry but I think it’s you 🙂 When you get older you get to be SMART about where you eat and you’re DEFINITELY eating in the wrong restaurants. Chain restaurants are notorious about loud music but that’s their calling card. Or maybe it is where you live–but most of the places I go to eat are never a problem. Age teaches me to be discerning. If I don’t like what they are serving (food, music or atmosphere, I don’t go) Of course, a great alternative is to have people over and sit around your own table (with or without music) and talk about things you all enjoy. ~Kathy

  • Sheryl Link

    Wonderful and fun to read. And so true. I hate loud music- anywhere – but especially while I’m trying to eat a meal. And I get you on the mumbling- but how about when people talk so fast like they’re in a rush to get every word out? That’s as bad as the other. Call me cranky.

  • Jo Link

    Try it as a deaf person, not a chance of understanding any conversation, just that terrible throbbing inside your head. You know the loud, loud music is contributing to the amount of deafness in this country. When kids drive down the street in cars with a sound system of enormous size, and music on full blast, they can wind up with deafness. Its just ALL so stupid!

  • Jenny Meadows Link

    Great read, Ruth! I hate noisy places and won’t tolerate them. Like Kathy, I leave. At my age I want to keep all the hearing I have left!
    I think the places where younger folks go are noisy because these kids are deaf. Seriousy! My son’s hearing is MUCH worse than mine, but he played in a band and pooh-poohed my suggestion that he wear earplugs. By the time he was in his early 20s, he was partially deaf.
    Me, I put in earplugs at Jazzercise! TURN IT DOWN!!!

  • Steve Link


  • It is the same for me more and more places. The salon, where the blow dryers were always problematic but on top of the music? Puhleeze. Movies seem to be pitched three levels too loud – and those are the romantic comedies. Last action film I endured in a theater I rolled up napkins and shoved them in my ears to keep from developing a permanent wince. But I feel you on the idea that simply staying home may be the beginning of the end…. I typically have to ask my husband to turn down the TV volume (and my daughter to turn it up). I’m afraid my narrow zone of comfort and my willingness to make demands have finally met in the middle.

  • Deborah Lee Link

    We are having a major controversy between the condo owners and the restaurants/clubs here in Sarasota, FL about music noise on Main Street . Try living with it all night/every night. We are in the music business ourselves, and are very conscious of keeping the live music at a level where people can still talk with each other. All these people will be deaf by the time they are 30!! And no, I don’t think it is age. I didn’t like loud music when I was 20 either!

  • Stephanie Link

    Oh my goodness! I’m totally with you on this one. I understand that people have different preferences (hence the concept of “menu”) but for the music to be so loud that people cannot hear one another is akin to burning everyone’s dinner and expecting they’ll like it. I ask that it be turned down all the time (and have found the volume control at Cafe Express myself)!

  • Carol A Link

    I have also become more and more bothered by my hearing changes. The one thing that bothers me the most is riding in the car with the windows down. I used to love it, traveled everywhere with all 4 windows down, music blaring,sing ing at the top of my lungs. That was youth!!!! Now, I can’t stand the hum that comes from having the windows down, and the music is blown away and I can’t hear it.I remember learning that your hearing changes as you age, at childhood, some sounds and tones are indiscernible and you grow into being able to hear them. As a young adult you can hear everything, your child crying in the night, or later on same child sneaking in at night! Now my dogs need to leap on me in the AM to let them out where barely a whimper would have me leaping from my bed before!!

  • msue Link

    Agree 100%. Noise and bustle is exhausting; we bolt out the door as soon as possible. It is much nicer at home where even simple meals can be civilized. A recent celebration meal at a nice restaurant was a pleasant surprise – we sat in a quiet area with soft lighting, subtle music, and a relaxed pace. It was so enjoyable that we lingered over extra wine and later a dessert. Now I’m spoiled.

  • This isn’t just getting old. When I was in my heyday (not so long ago, but definitely I was more hip and with it then) and frequented trendy places every night, my father-in-law said that a friend of his from LA was coming to town. This friend was hard of hearing so could I please find a restaurant that was quiet so they could talk. And my husband I were welcome to join them.
    I personally had not been to a quieter place, so I called around and found a place that seemed to work. I explained that I was bringing two 80+ year old men who were hard of hearing. What was the noise level?
    Oh, it is pretty quiet in here before 9 pm. they assured me.
    GREAT. I booked a table, we arrived at the early bird special hour of 5:30 (though there was no early bird special – not that kind of place) and THE WALLS WERE COVERED IN TIN or something like tin. It wasn’t quiet even when it was empty. Argh. Even I, with my young ears and hip and happening lifestyle thought it was too loud.
    It isn’t age. It is the insanity of the masses.

  • I review restaurants on Yelp! and if the music is too loud, I do mention it in my review. Whether it’s age or just preference, those of us who actually enjoy dinner conversation will patronize those places which don’t bombard us with noise. The rest can go to hell.

  • Eileen Sunseri Link

    I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t stand this when I was in my 20’s, either, so I don’t think the issue is one of being a bit older now. I enjoy meeting friends for dinner and when we can’t hear each other because of the music, it defeats the purpose of the evening for us.

  • I’ve never cared for loud music — perhaps because I’m a musician. I agree that going out and being part of a community is important. I wish restaurants and other gathering places and indeed music venues would be aware that loud music isn’t he way to create this — and only if you create it will people return.

    and about the world going faster? in my writing I work on telling the long story, always have, really, a challenge to find places to do that…

  • Craig Link

    It is no accident. The old school plush carpet, drapes, upholstery that are quiet’s best friend got associated with bloated fat cats and their swankienda crowd. Designers set out to match the fusion food with the fusion of metal, stone, glass, concrete, and tile that bounce around that screamed conversation until everyone in the place has had a chance to hear it.
    I’ll take the tuna salad on a TV tray.
    Don’t even have to put my teeth in to eat it

  • First of all, I love your line “Open-minded to the point of porousness”…sometimes I am accused of not being open minded because I actually have an opinion on an issue. I find that loud music is the curse of eating after 9:00 at night or at wine bars or beer houses. The other challenge with many places is the architecture or the design of the restaurant as a result it is not just the music that is loud, it is also the background noise. All conversations sounds like the roar at Yankee Stadium or maybe that is just the ringing in my ears. So is it really age or become a more discerning diners?

  • All I can say is Amen.

  • Ward Link

    I love loud music. And I love great food. And I love thoughtful conversation. Unfortunately, they don’t play well together. I think the answer is what restaurants used to do about smoking — divide and conquer. Put the people who want maximum stimulation in one section of the place, and the the rest of us in the minimal stimulation zone. Something tells me that not just old farts will be in the latter. Then all we’ll need is a room where we can turn down the constant ringing in our ears. That’s a concept.

  • Claire Link

    It’s loud on purpose. They want to you order, eat, and leave. No lingering. You won’t linger because the music is so loud. So you leave and they can turn the table over to the next person faster. And make more money. Whenever you question “why” just remember the key phrase “Follow the money.”

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