I was recently jostled with memories of my childhood days on Coolidge Street in Madison, living in a little house with my parents and my older brother, Jim.
What set me off down memory lane was a story I read in the Wisconsin State Journal. A story about noise or quiet or the lack thereof.
Our small house was built as a part of an effort to produce housing for those coming back from the war. Housing was very short. The houses on my street were all alike and were placed in long rows with just enough space to breathe — and not much more.
Our neighborhood was called the “Far East” and was located near the huge Oscar Mayer meatpacking plant. Many of the residents in that area worked for “Little Oscar.” (Remember the Oscar Mayer Weiner whistle?)
As kids, we learned to play quietly away from the neighboring houses because we knew neighbors who worked nights or long shifts for Oscar tried to sleep during the day. It was common courtesy.
But, it was not a quiet neighborhood. We lived near the Truax Airport which was used by both commercial planes and military jets.
The flight patterns were drawn right over our housetops. If a conversation had begun and suddenly the aircraft were above us — well we had to stop — wait for them to pass — and then continue. I do not know how the workers ever got a wink.
The neighbors were always complaining about the frequency of flights and the sense of being in a war zone. People on the Far East are probably still complaining and well, a fat lot of good it has done. It seems to me that it remains pretty much the same.
The WSJ story noted that an 85—year—old neighborhood woman said the planes don’t bother her, she rather likes to watch them. This is just an assumption, but if she’s been living there for most of her life, I doubt she can hear much of anything — even a plane just clearing her rooftops.
The experts say the airfield noise does not harm hearing, but all I can say to that is, “Huh?”
Peggy Marie! My mother would yell. The planes would bear down on our neighborhood. She would shake her head and stare at me — knowing that I had been trained to wait — and then listen for her to complete her message.
It was a learned and very annoying pattern to any conversation.
Now the Air National Guard is considering phasing out the old jets and bringing in some new F-35s to the field. The new jets will cause noise levels that have been deemed “incompatible” for residential use.
The decibel labels will range from 70 to 110 or as loud as a rock concert.
Insufferable I’d say.
As you might imagine the disruption will be the most intense in the areas where low-income residents live and are the most likely to have no connections or advocates to speak up for their right to a more tolerable life. Here’s the kicker — the new jets may be flying nearly twice as often as the old ones.
Will it become intolerable? As a veteran to all of that noise from the airport, I would say it is probably intolerable right now. Which brings us to the fact that the research by the Air National Guard shows that it will be “incompatible to introduce these decibels over residential areas,” but that doesn’t mean they will go elsewhere. Madison remains under consideration.
A peaceful existence isn’t coming to the Far East Side any time soon, especially if the Guard turns a deaf ear (excuse me) to the noise complaints. It will probably be as bad as it was when I was a whippersnapper … and maybe even louder.