Friday, August 19, 2011

Noise: boy racers' only chance to make an impact

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, August 16.)

BOY RACERS are a curse where I live. It’s a flat town – no hills to soak up or deflect noise – and the air is often still. This means boy racers can be heard right across town, especially at night.

This of course is their intention. Their consuming desire is to be noticed.

Though not possessed of the sharpest intellects, they are smart enough to be dimly aware that they will never amount to anything in life.

Somewhere in the recesses of their amped-up, petrol-addled, baseball cap-clad brains, they sense that their only chance of attracting attention is by making a lot of noise in their ludicrous, pimped-up cars.

Noise is central to the boy racer culture because while you can avoid looking at them, you can’t ignore the high-decibel output of their car exhausts. They demand your attention.

That this intrusive noise interferes with people’s common-law right to quiet enjoyment of life doesn’t deter them. Quite the reverse – it’s the boy racers’ raison d’etre.

In recent months, however, I’ve been less conscious of them. Sure, there are still times when I hear them buzzing around the town in the small hours of the morning like so many demented mosquitoes, or pitifully amusing themselves by drifting and doing wheelspins. But it’s as if the noise has become more noticeable because it happens less frequently.

I don’t know whether this is because the police have cracked down on them or if it’s just another silly craze coming to a natural end. Perhaps a combination of the two.

Either way, it’s a good thing. The day the last luridly painted Subaru Impreza or Nissan Skyline disappears up its own ridiculously oversized exhaust pipe will be an occasion for rejoicing.

* * *

IT’S NEARLY nine months since Simon Mercep took over from Sean Plunket on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report, plenty of time to allow a measured assessment. And I have to agree with Listener columnist Joanne Black that the pleasant, mild-mannered Mercep is too similar to his co-host, Geoff Robinson.

Like many Morning Report listeners, I was surprised that Radio New Zealand didn’t replace Plunket with a woman, or at least someone with a style that contrasted more sharply with that of the veteran Robinson.

Mercep is a competent interviewer but lacks Plunket’s take-no-prisoners approach. Admittedly there were times when Plunket was more aggressive than he needed to be and his hectoring style became tiresome, but it worked overall because of the contrast with Robinson. It was the old good-cop, bad-cop dynamic.

Mercep has a soft, unthreatening voice that doesn’t command the listener’s attention. It lacks cut-through. Plunket is a big man with a voice and interviewing style to match. In rugby terms, he’s the equivalent of the enforcer in the front row of the scrum. You don’t need physical bulk on your side to interrogate people – Brian Edwards proved that – but I’m sure it helps psychologically. Mercep just seems too darned nice to unsettle his interview subjects.

As for Robinson, he’s a marvel: always composed and civil, but still capable of asking the hard questions. And he’s been doing it since 1975.

His ability to bounce from one interview to another with barely enough time to catch his breath, and to conduct them all intelligently and with authority, marks him as a consummate professional. But it also points to a strong team of producers and researchers working behind the scenes and feeding him the right material.

* * *

FROM THE “so what’s new?” category: a recent news report that overseas tourists don’t find Auckland visitor-friendly. Has it ever been?

Almost every time I fly into Auckland Airport, whether on a domestic or international flight, I’m struck by the inadequate signage and paucity of information. How visitors cope, especially those who don’t speak English, is a mystery.

But the airport is a fitting introduction to a city that always seems too busy going about its business to bother being friendly to outsiders; too busy taking tourists’ money to pause and smile.

If the airport-to-city bus is the visitor’s first encounter with Auckland, it’s a miracle that most don’t immediately turn around and fly out again.

Unless things have improved lately, waiting passengers are made to stand out in the weather at a poorly marked stop, surrounded by surly-looking airport staff having a cigarette break. I once waited an eternity for a bus and when one finally came into view, it carried on straight past me despite a sign indicating it was the city shuttle.

And when a bus finally deigns to stop and pick you up, you often encounter an unsmiling, non-communicative driver with the charm of a pitbull.

Some cities exude an aura of welcome and friendliness. People often say it about Wellington. But unless Auckland has undergone a remarkable cultural transformation, Rugby World Cup visitors are likely to be unimpressed.


Bearhunter said...

Sorry, Karl, I can't let this go unchallenged. The bus stop at Auckland's domestic terminal is very clearly marked and the area around it is non-smoking. In fact you have to walk some 150 metres to get to the smoking area. As for bus regularity, the Airport shuttle goes every 20 minutes. I don't work for Auckland Airport or Auckland Transport, but I couldn't let another gratuitous swipe at the City of Sales go undefended.

The probligo said...

"Either way, it’s a good thing. The day the last luridly painted Subaru Impreza or Nissan Skyline disappears up its own ridiculously oversized exhaust pipe will be an occasion for rejoicing."

Heh!!! I can recall when the "affordable was a Vauxhall J with a 6" downpipe out the back - it sleeved very nicely over what was left of the muffler...