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Sound The Alarm

Alarm clocks—a necessary annoyance some of us can't live without.

The sound of my alarm is irritating.

It goes off with a high-pitched, repetitive beep impossible to ignore. But that’s the whole purpose, right—to get me up and running. Every night I set it to do just that. Every morning I curse under my breath at the sound.

For me, an alarm is a necessary annoyance. I need it to guarantee I’ll wake up. The more jarring the better. A pleasant, melodic sound may work for some people, but not for me. How do I know? I used to set my alarm to a music station. I overslept repeatedly. I tried setting the clock on a table across the room so I’d have to get out of bed to turn it off. That didn’t work either. After about 10 minutes, the music ended, and I was sound asleep.

Many mornings I admit I hit the snooze button. I can hit it square on within seconds with my eyes closed. Why do I do this? I don’t want to get up, that’s why. I want to stay in bed. I want to wile away the morning unscheduled and appointment free. That’s seldom possible. It’s also not very likely that once I’ve hit the button I can extend my dreamy slumber another few minutes. Generally, I’m full awake at the first beep.

More to the point, my mind is awake. I may close my eyes and curl up under my down comforter, but I’m already scripting my day and mapping out my time: Pick up laundry, grocery shop, dentist, gas station or get haircut. Some days I have social plans, but I rarely have a day free of errands, a class or an appointment. None of these things can happen lolling around in bed.

The rude interruption of the alarm is just the tip of the iceberg. Once awake, the sounds of the city creep into play.

I live what I like to call "urban suburban"—close to downtown Mountain View, on the edge of a residential neighborhood. My house is not at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac behind a little picket fence. It’s in a planned community complex two blocks from Castro Street. The Caltrain whistle and traffic on Evelyn contribute to the cacophony of my audible world.

People frequently ask if I mind living so close to the train. I don’t. I love the sound of the train. It speaks to the adventurer and traveler in me. In fact, most of the time, I’m not aware of the sound of the train until I don’t hear it. If it’s off schedule or stops running, I notice the silence and realize I haven’t heard the familiar bells and whistles or the hum of the engine waiting for passengers to board or debark.

I do sometimes notice the rumble and tremor of the freight trains that lumber through (when I first moved in, I mistook the vibration for an earthquake), especially in the early-morning hours if I’m awake. But the sound rarely awakens me.

Add to the mix the back-up warning beeps of delivery trucks, nearby construction equipment and voices. It’s the voices I love the most. People passing by on their way to work or to local restaurants. People chatting, laughing, singing, and, yes, even shouting sometimes. Reality bites of life revealed in snippets of conversation. It’s energizing and exciting. It always tweaks my curiosity.

My cat (very friendly at first glance, but rather skittish if picked up) loves to sit on my porch steps and watch the pedestrian parade, probably because a day rarely passes that someone doesn’t stop to speak to her or scratch her head. What a life!

Daily a row of colorful taxis lines the curb at the corner —anticipating passengers from the train. The drivers, mostly men, wait patiently for fares. While they wait, they congregate in clusters to talk and laugh and share experiences and concerns. The camaraderie among them is enviable.

On Sunday mornings, the conversations are more pronounced. It’s  day. Fresh fruit, vegetables,and flowers just steps away. Looking out over the parking lot, the scene is a constantly moving river of people threading through a sea of assembled white tents. The buzz of conversation ebbs and flows often mixed with music. What a treat to hear a Celtic harp or a saxophone solo or folk music on a 12-string guitar in the background. I have a front-row seat with no admission charge.

Living with these sounds (the uninitiated might call it noise, but they’d be mistaken) makes me feel alive. It makes me aware of the integral role each of us plays in the world we live in. It makes me want to get up in the morning.

Many people I know use a smart phone as their alarm clock. They can personalize the ring, and it’s handy when they travel. For some it might even save time. They could text while waiting to fall asleep or take an early conference call without getting out of bed. Not my ideal choice.

At one point, I did consider buying another clock. One with a less strident beep. I discovered novelty clocks. Clocks that speak, laugh, sing or play nature sounds (chirping birds or rushing ocean waves) so waking up is less stressful. Even a clock that releases faint aromatherapy scents. Amazing.

I found a drill sergeant clock and a tantrum throwing clock, but the most unusual one was Clocky. When you hit Clocky’s snooze button, he rolls onto the floor and runs around the room searching for a place to hide. You have to get out of bed to turn it off. He finds a new spot every day, like a hide-and-seek game. That would be extremely irritating.

For now, I'll stick with the clock I have. It does the job it’s supposed to do. Now all I have to do is get out of bed every day and do the job I’m supposed to do.

Loni Davis March 30, 2011 at 10:44 PM
I like this article on clocks and everyday sounds. I actually use my i-phone just as you described! Love doing my conference calls in bed -especially since I'm connecting with East Coast folks a lot. However, I woke up this morning with my iPhone on the pillow next to me and thought that maybe I was getting a little over the top on this digital research I'm doing!
annette nielsen March 31, 2011 at 08:58 PM
So relate to your "urban suburban" descriptions and comments! As far as alarm clocks, I'm paranoid and set more than one--in case the power goes out on the clock radio.
Joni Ratts April 28, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Me too! Are we related?
Joni Ratts April 28, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Sleeping with your iPhone? You can do better than that! How decadent...conference calling in your pj's! Glad you're not video conferencing. :)
Joni Ratts April 28, 2011 at 11:38 PM
If the power goes out, I have a legitimate excuse for oversleeping! Hopefully, it's out wherever I'm supposed to be as well! Yikes, more than one alarm would never do it for me...that would lead to GROUCHY!

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