My wife and I drove back from Portland to Vancouver on Sunday night, rather than Monday morning. The traffic between Tacoma and Olympia had been fierce coming down on Friday afternoon. For one stretch it took about two hours to advance twenty miles.


At a rest area near Fort Lewis I inquired to find out if that location was frequently congested. The volunteer at the Information Booth was retired military, and he explained—due to increased troops stationed at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Base—that nowadays this particular stretch of I-5 is perennially blocked.


I needed to teach an evening class on Monday, and we figured the stress of being stuck in traffic—plus never knowing if there would be a delay at the border—made it worthwhile to return a night early.


Fort Lewis wasn’t that bad on a Sunday night. There was only one section when it took twenty minutes to travel two miles. Tacoma was okay, and Seattle was even easier.

Around eleven o’clock we stopped for gasoline in Marysville. We would easily make it home by one or two in the morning. Sleep in on Monday morning, and Bob—as folks say—is your mother's brother.


While that gas station/convenience store has an indoor restroom, it is only accessible by going outside and walking to the back of the building.


Ahem, strolling back to our car I passed two vehicles parked closely together. Eight or ten late teens/young adults were hanging out. There was also a phenomenally loud "thump-thump" emanating from one of them. (A vehicle, not a teenager.) While the volume wasn’t enough to rattle teeth, the windows of the convenience store were a’shaking.


I figured I had three choices: 1) continue walking past the inconsiderate hooligans while gritting my teeth to keep various fillings in place, 2) go yell at them to turn down that noise (and get off my lawn, to boot), or 3) revel in their particular form of extremism.


Years ago I learned that people love to share their passions. Once spent a wonderful afternoon with a retired French diplomat after he invited me into his Parisian apartment. The reason for the Gallic hospitality? I had expressed an interest in his collection of tops. He proudly showed me many of the spinning toys he had collected while being stationed at various postings around the world.


I turned around and approached the delinquents. Several of them moved away from me. Undeterred, I continued advancing while loudly (had to be loud to be heard over the thumps) and cheerily demanded, "Well, let me see it."


After a bit of confusion I clarified that I would appreciate it if the owner of the car making the loud sounds could pop the trunk so I could admire the Kickers he had installed.


Some background: Recently I had inherited a Toyota Yaris. While I don't drive often, it is a great little car to zip around in. The only complaint I had was that the sound system wasn't powerful enough to listen to podcasts and audiobooks while driving at highway speeds. A combination of minimal sound insulation, road noise, and cheap factory speakers made listening to conversational tones at volume less than satisfactory.


In another life I also used to dabble in car stereo equipment and could appreciate the value of a good after-market sound system. Following a bit of research I had someone replace the factory speakers with four modestly-priced Alpine speakers. The difference was remarkable. Now one could turn up the volume high enough to understand audiobooks over the wind howls, rattles, and various other distractions at highway speeds, with no distortion.


After realizing I hadn't come back to yell at him, but rather to admire his passion, the young man smiled and proudly opened up the trunk to reveal the custom box he had installed with two twelve-inche subwoofers. The drivers were pistoning back and forth as even-louder liberated bass pulsed into the night. If you're into that sort of thing it was actually pretty impressive.


We got to talking about sound systems. He beamed when I told him I was impressed that he could get that much volume without any distortion. He then brought out his iPhone and began sharing photos of his next big project. I was squinting at images of even larger 15-inch subwoofers that were soon going to replace the ones that were currently bombarding us.


After a while Chris walked over to see what was keeping me. I explained that I was appreciating the craftsmanship and results of a top-notch sound system, and she joined the group.


The owner of the car invited me to sit in the passenger seat so I could fully experience the sound from inside the car. Well, how can you turn down an offer like that? Remembering we were in a hurry, I sat down just long enough to feel the air being pushed around inside the cabin (and into my ears, skull, and bones) by all of the aural technology.


After thanking the hooligans, we left and headed north. Chris wanted to know what I was thinking, and I tried to explain that sometimes you just have to go with the flow and appreciate what the universe offers. If life gives you thumps, start grooving to some kind of ade.


If wasn't until we got back on the highway that I realized I had been a bit rude. I hadn't reciprocated his hospitality by offering to let the guy sit in the Yaris to hear the clarity of the new Alpines so he could listen to an improved Ira Glass introducing the latest episode of "This American Life," Pete Seeger wailing on his banjo, or the latest book on child development to which I was listening.


Catch you next time I'm through Marysville, buddy. I'll probably hear you before you hear me.


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This web site was last updated on December 21, 2019.