View of crowd covering ears

The other night my sister Brigid and I drove around for more than an hour before we found a restaurant without a long wait time, thanks to limited seating. But one thing hasn’t changed during the pandemic: blaring music.

If you think I’m exaggerating about how loud businesses play their music consider this:

A few years back a copy editor from The Denver Post called one night to ask me a question about the story I had turned in. She had to repeat the question several times, and finally she said, “I’m so sorry to call you in the middle of a concert.”

“I’m not at a concert,” I hollered. “I’m at a $*!@?/ grocery store.”

Only a minute before, I had complained to two store employees stocking shelves that the music was so loud it was maddening. This wasn’t midnight with no one around but recluses buying cat food and people with no life, people like me. It was 9 p.m.

The pandemic has only made the situation worse because I can’t understand what people are saying behind their masks, whether it’s a hostess asking if I want to sit outside or a grocery store clerk asking if I found everything I needed. “Needed? No. Wanted, yes.”

I love this review from Bridget Mohoney in Bon Appétit:

"While munching on sweet potato fries, I was bombarded by a playlist that would have been right at home at a fraternity formal, both in song choice and volume,” she wrote.

But I hate to be complaining about restaurants during these trying times. Tamara Chuang of The Colorado Sun reported that even though restaurants have recovered some since April, the industry is still down thousands of jobs.

“More than 2,500 establishments have shut down since March,” she wrote.

The latest survey from the Colorado Restaurant Association found that 56% of restaurant members fear that if coronavirus conditions don’t improve, they’ll permanently close within three months, Chuang reported.

One of the COVID casualties is Racines, where the political glitterati gathered. Part of the restaurant’s appeal was that the soundtrack never overpowered conversations during the busy breakfast rush. However, co-owner Lee Goodfriend said they got plenty of complaints about the noise..

Oh, how Racines is missed. Rocky Mountain PBS did a lovely story on Goodfriend and co-owner David Racine and the restaurant going out of business.

When I discovered Bastiens, a restaurant on Colfax Avenue I had driven by for years before I finally stopped in, it wasn’t just the sugar steak that delighted me, but musical classics such as “The Summer Wind” played at an appropriate sound level.

I recently walked into a sandwich shop where the music was so loud I thought my ears were going to bleed, although the guy behind the counter didn’t seem to mind it at all.

In fact, when I asked “How can you stand it?” he thought I was referring to the coronavirus and said because they’ve always done a lot of delivery business the pandemic so far hadn’t been a huge problem.

I am not alone.

Various polls show that around 70% of restaurant patrons think the music is too loud. Restaurant sounds have been aggravated by industrial decor such as concrete floors, and a perception that a loud business is seen as a successful business.

Two years ago, Denver was ranked the fourth loudest “foodie” city in the country. Denver averaged more than 80 decibels during a weekend dinner rush. That’s the volume inside an average factory, Denver 7 reported.

Another study, this one reported by The Washington Post, found that loud music isn’t good for the waistline. Twenty percent more customers ordered something that was not good for them, compared with those who dined during the lower-volume times.

I’m not sure how much credibility I give the study. I might be annoyed by the volume at ChopHouse & Brewery but that’s not why I can’t resist the onion rings and cornbread!

I’ve struggled for years to hear in restaurants.

My cousin Lisa is a huge fan of women’s basketball, and when she visited Denver to watch an NCAA tournament she wanted to take me and my sister’s family out for dinner. No way, I said. Let’s do takeout at the house so we can actually hear each other talk.

Someone once told me that people who have trouble hearing conversations often struggle with loud music and such. I don’t know if that’s true, but I definitely need my ears checked.

We still laugh about the time we were in Wisconsin on my sister’s boat and someone asked if I wanted something to drink. “Yes,” I said. And they kept asking and I kept nodding yes. Finally, someone stood right in front of me. “Do you want Diet Pepsi or water?” Oh, Diet Pepsi.

My nieces and nephew are now at an age where they are embarrassed by my request of restaurant staffers to please turn down the music. They love tunes played at an unbearable level, something they inherited from their parents.

Brigid and Brian lived with me in north Denver before they bought their house just a few streets over. The night of the 2000 primary election I could hear music as I drove down the alley to my garage and it only intensified as I parked and walked toward my house.

I raced downstairs to find Brigid sitting in the family room with empty wine bottles, a pair of scissors and dog hair all over the carpet. (We joked that our dog Bo looked like a yak, and she had trimmed him on one side. He looked at me, terrified.)

“TURN OFF THE MUSIC!” I screamed.

Brigid’s husband was on his first business trip since they had gotten married, and she kept slurring, “I mith Brian. I mith Brian.”

When I went upstairs to get ready for bed, I received two hang-up calls in a row. I checked the number. The Denver Police Department. I called and asked what was going on.

They were doing a welfare check. A neighbor called the police worried about the situation at my house because someone had been playing the same sad song over and over again at top volume for THREE HOURS.

Sometimes when I go to a restaurant and the music is really loud I turn to my companion and say, “I mith Brian.” They love the story — after the establishment turns down the music so I can explain it.

Lynn Bartels thinks politics is like sports but without the big salaries and protective cups. The Washington Post's "The Fix" blog named her one of Colorado's best political reporters and tweeters. Bartels, a South Dakota native, graduated from Cottey College in 1977 and Northern Arizona University in 1980 and then moved to New Mexico for her first journalism job. The Rocky Mountain News hired her in 1993 as its night cops reporter and in 2000 assigned her to her first legislative session. The Gold Dome hasn't been the same since. In 2009, The Denver Post hired Bartels after the Rocky closed, just shy of its 150th birthday. Bartels left journalism in 2015 to join then Secretary of State Wayne Williams's staff. She has now returned to journalism - at least part-time - and writes a regular political column for Colorado Politics.

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