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Sound of Music? : 'Boom Cars' Arouse Agony and Ecstasy

July 16, 1989|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

Two sleek mini-trucks cruised slowly through the beach parking lot, proclaiming their presence with a steady beat of high-powered booms that rolled from the pickups to the sea, out-rumbling the surf.

On this blue, lazy beach day in Long Beach, Jesse Gonzalez and Eddie Lopez were out "booming" in their mini-trucks, playing the usual bass-heavy rap and soul music to shake up their cabs a bit--let the Cherry Avenue beach crowd know they were around.

In the ever-evolving world of car crazes, "boom cars" packed with elaborate, expensive and achingly loud stereo systems have become a nationally accepted badge of status for the young and the male, as well as an earsplitting annoyance to anyone within their expansive range.

"It's something that's going on right now," Lopez said, explaining, with simplicity if not insight, why he has spent nearly $5,000 on sound equipment and collected $1,200 in tickets for playing it too loudly. "When hot rodding was in, why did you want to speed?"

Lopez, a hefty 21-year-old trash collector from Long Beach, cruises in a black Chevrolet mini-truck that seems propelled not by the forces of internal combustion, but by waves of sound that vibrate his cab seat with a nervous jiggle. On his truck's hood is a spray-painted mural of a figure of death carrying a limp woman.

"She died of sound, too much sound," quipped a friend.

It is too much for many communities that liken boomers' sonic stakeouts to a recurring migraine headache.

Officials in Long Beach, southeast Los Angeles County cities and Los Angeles have been trying to dull the thump of boom cars with ticket-writing crackdowns and in some cases, anti-noise ordinances. A state senator from Norwalk has even introduced a bill, passed by the Senate and now before the Assembly, that would make it a violation of the state Vehicle Code to play a vehicle's sound system so loudly that it can be heard at a distance of 25 feet or more.

"I've had to sit at signals next to some of the deaf turkeys that own boom boxes and my whole body vibrated. They are a nuisance as well as a hazard," an angry Lakewood man wrote to Sen. Cecil Green (D-Norwalk), who introduced the anti-boom bill at the behest of city council members from boom-plagued Southeast cities.

Even the hard of hearing are not immune. "I have been boomed until my bad ear had pain," an elderly Bellflower man wrote Bellflower City Councilman Randy Bomgaars, who has been crusading for quieter streets. "We're a society that's responding more and more to noise and chaos," Bomgaars complained. "We need to return to peace and tranquility."

Audiologists warn that the thunderous volumes of boom systems damage the hearing of boom buffs, and local officials worry that boom car drivers, oblivious to emergency sirens, will careen into police cars and ambulances.

Stories are legion of the decibel muscle of sophisticated car-music systems, which can take up the entire flatbed of a mini-truck. Speakers often number in the double digits in a single system, which typically costs from $2,000 to $15,000 but can range as high as $80,000. The sound can explode car windows, bulge doors and set speakers on fire.

Long Beach Police Lt. Ken Schack recalls one young man who pushed up the volume until he could flip a coin into the air. "Kaboommm, the quarter bounced up off the roof," said Schack, who has heard boom cars approach with their intimidating thumps from as far as four blocks away.

"When I was a youth," Schack continued with a hint of nostalgia, "all the cars had been lowered in the back. Now we have stereo systems that nobody can get in the car and listen to because they die of traumatic injury."

Not exactly, but the roar of super-loud systems does take its toll on ears. "No rational person would say these are safe levels," said Maurice H. Miller, chief of audiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Equal to Airplane Engine

Dale Lincoln, co-owner of Car Radio Sound Center Inc. in Long Beach, says the average system he installs can attain volume levels of about 125 decibels, or about the same as an airplane engine. Workers exposed to that much noise in a factory would have to wear hearing protection.

Lopez is not worried. "I haven't lost none of my hearing," said Lopez, whose 3-year-old son, a budding boomer, likes to go cruising, even though he can barely see out the truck window.

Lopez so far has spent about $1,800 outfitting his second mini-truck with a boom system. His first truck, in which he had installed $3,000 worth of sound equipment, "got taken away from me at gunpoint" by two men who rode off with it.

The tickets Lopez and his buddies collect are seen as a relatively minor hindrance to the rites of booming.

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