Siren City—is it so bad?

I don’t need an alarm clock, even when we have to get up to catch a plane. The sounds of my Upper West Side neighborhood are filled with catastrophic siren sounds. We don’t need birds before the dawn has cleared away the night; we have ambulance sounds whose decibels scorch your ear drums. We also have police cars that make thumping sounds that are other worldly. And to top it off, we have screaming fire engines with honking horns that can wake the dead. For all this, New York City remains one of the most expensive cities to live in. Ah wilderness, Sleepy Hollow.

The streets are like the subways. Everyone wants to get on them at the same time. I’m surprised no one has come up with personal sirens for the subways. If you go west a few blocks, you come to the West Side Highway, which leads to the George Washington Bridge and goes under it and up to Westchester County. You’re safe by about the time you hit the Henry Hudson Bridge in Riverdale. By then the sirens have faded in the distance, and only the siren of an occasional state trooper chasing a speeder will hit your eardrum faster than your foot can delicately hit the brake and innocently slow your car down. What me speed, officer?

If you’re crazy enough to go to down to Midtown: I’m talking 5th Avenue, 6th Avenue, 7th Avenue, Madison Avenue, Park Avenue, the sirens rule, especially at morning and late afternoon hours. As you meander West again, dodging taxis, buses, trucks and being assaulted by horns (siren adjuncts), your ears begin to pound again, and you start thinking to yourself, “Where the frig is everybody going?” They’re running like rats to the pied pipers’ horns (added to the sirens), trying to make their trains to the burbs, the shaded lanes of cutout towns, pot-holed highways and police speed traps. What to do?

You have to live somewhere. And this is your life. As you plod north, the Berkshire Mountains of western Connecticut and Massachusetts await you, the speeding picks up and so do the price of the tickets, and you’re left with a paranoid glance into your rearview mirror and you’re scanning the windshield for where the cops nest in the scenery. There are tempting long and empty spaces of road where you can take your chances that some cop isn’t squirreled away. Talk about the surveillance society? A second pair of eyes do come in handy. But by then you’re deep into the countryside, and the glory of the mountain views are spectacular.

Then there are large signs for the upcoming exits: Hudson, then Claverack and Hillsdale are ours and we exit to Great Barrington and a two-lane blacktop. The horns, the sirens, are gone, except for an occasional crazy who wants to kill you for passing him ten miles back. As you finally meander past Route 23 to the Four Brothers Greek-American Restaurant, you can stop for lunch and a bathroom. They are famous for their Greek salads, filled with garden-fresh tomatoes, fresh greens, lettuce, and a patented home-made dressing. But the special feature is their pizzas that come with a variety of toppings and in small, medium, large, and stomachache sizes. So there you are. With the exception of some perennial speeders, you’re good to go all the way into town without a siren. Once there, you’re in Norman Rockwell land. It’s so quaint and quiet that you can only hear some geese soar overhead or see a flock of wild turkeys about to cross the road.

Then there’s Stockbridge, home of the beautiful Red Lion Inn and the Berkshire Theater Festival. There’s Lenox, not far from Tanglewood where the Boston Symphony spends its summer playing great classical music, and often jazz or pop.

You also pass some beautiful farm land with cows, bulls, farmhouses, huge bales of hay that make you want to live. It smells so good. There are horses in meadows running free and somehow the sirens have gone away unless you’re dumb enough to be speeding through this wonderland. How many times have you thought of moving here in the thirty years plus that you visited it for the summer. Great Barrington is pure Rockwell: small shops, a town diner, a small supermarket before the big Price Chopper supermarket and the nearby K-Mart, Radio Shack and bicycle stores. How, do you think you will you ever go back to Siren City?

Well, you did, you think, for thirty or more summers. You drive out to Lake Buel to see some friends, or go even farther to Otis, to see some other friends. The pace has slowed down and the day is quiet, your friends are glad to see you. They have a lovely house surrounded by woods. It’s in a gated community with a nice swimming pool. Suddenly you remember, you have to remember everybody’s name. There’s no talking politics for fear of offending some people. So we just take the sun and think of selling our West-Side co-op and buying something up here. It’s only twelve miles to get a bottle of milk. Otis is a bit bare. Well, you’re screwed if you do and screwed if you don’t.

My son’s arm is healing quickly from a broken arm he had. The specialist took the cast off and put on a lightweight Velcro cast that comfortably wraps around his arm. The doctor says he’s sure the Navy will renew my son’s contract. His trainer says the same. But it is so quiet up there. Maybe I can pick up a few sirens at the hardware store in town once he gets on a ship. Maybe we can get rid of all our alarm clocks before we leave.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at and He has written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of the (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at

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4 Responses to Siren City—is it so bad?

  1. I hate the city. Never been to NYC. I’ll bet what I call the city you call a town. I have to go Fort Worth to see my cancer doctors and I hate it. Guess I got it pretty good. Bought my first house in 1990 for $35,000. 1190 square feet 3 bedroom brick. The house I live in now is paid for, 4 bedroom 2500 square feet 2 story brick, very quiet.

  2. Whoops accidently hit publish before I was done.

    I was going to say I quit talking politics a while back, as I found life is too short and I quit caring. Hadn’t had an argument to speak of since. I like people and let them believe what they want. Isn’t NYC one of the politic capitals of the US only 2nd to DC? Man I couldn’t live there, you’ve done your purgatory:) How you lived under that Bloomberg guy is beyond me?

  3. Haven’t been to NYC for some time, I live a place where the birds wake you, but I do remember the constant sound coming up from the streets with the heat of summer, always peppered with sirens – much more exciting than my neighbour’s blower- miss the place!

  4. Ray is that you writing all the way from Sydney, Australia? If so, how are you? Working on any new films. This (the above) is what I’m up to writing these days, adland is long ago behind me. Anyhow, if it is you, give me a brief Good’ day mate. If not, stay well (as I hope you are).
    Best Regards.