The two men hanging on the corner of
Wyllys and Wethersfield eyed me curiously when I pulled up alongside
them, windows rolled down, classical music blaring.
By the time I got out of my car, they
were halfway across the street. I rushed to catch up, but that just
sent them running.
"Is it me or my Mozart?"
I screamed after them.
But they just kept going.
"She's (expletive) crazy,"
I heard one of them say before I lost them.
But I'm not crazy. I'm scientific -
sort of. That morning I grabbed the few classical CDs I own - Mahler,
Brahms, Rachmaninov, Mozart - and set out toward Barnard Park in
Hartford's South Green neighborhood.
As you might have read Saturday, residents
are trying to raise money to outfit the park with loudspeakers that
blast classical music in an effort to drive out drug dealers, users
and sundry others.
Can't blame them. The park has been
a problem for a while. Residents, cops and business owners will
tell you about the nasty stuff that goes on there - homeless people
defecating in bushes, users dumping needles, folks who had a little
too much of one thing or another (or both) passing out on benches.
So, of course, they thought Beethoven.
Yeah, I laughed, too. But turns out
that classical music is quite the riffraff repellent. It's worked
successfully in Canadian parks, Australian railway stations, a troublesome
Florida street corner and probably a 7-Eleven near you.
So I drove to the park armed with my
music and my window rolled down (yes, it was freezing, but I'm willing
to suffer for the public's right to know) to see for myself.
It took some doing. There was snow
on the ground - and did I mention it was freezing? Not too many
people hung around long enough for me to approach. There were quite
a few more embarrassing incidents of folks outrunning the crazy
lady in the car.
But then I spotted a group lingering
inside the park. Their eyes peered out suspiciously from underneath
their hoodies as soon as I pulled up. They laughed at the music;
but they refused to make eye contact. But this time I was prepared.
When they moved, I moved. When they tried to lose me, I accelerated
and cut them off at the corner.
"Give me a minute," I begged.
"I swear, I'm not crazy."
I filled the group in on the proposal
and on my experiment. And then, I waited for the simultaneous laughter
to stop. You guessed it; they pegged me as a nut-job. Or, one suggested,
as somebody who had maybe bought some bad stuff and was now hallucinating
that it was August.
Did I realize, one asked, that my lips
were sort of blue?
"It's never going to work,"
Alberto Macano said of the proposal.
But it had, I said. I'd been sending
people running for hours.
"They ran because they thought
you were a cop," Macano said. "Cops are the only thing
that will really scare people off."
And that music isn't bad, he said.
"Yeah," another in the group said, balling up his hands
and shuffling his feet. "Music is music and it's all good."
We chatted for a few more minutes,
but then the group went looking for warmth. They suggested I do
the same. This experiment wasn't worth freezing over, they advised.
But I spotted two more guys across
the park. I pumped up the music, but my speakers weren't strong
enough. So I walked across and invited them over to my orchestra
Mozart was still playing. But I told
them I had other options.
"Nah," said the taller of
the two who said his name was D.J., "that's fine." He
leaned into the passenger side window and listened.
"Not bad," he said.
"I could get into that,"
said his buddy who suggested names weren't necessary in his line
of work. "It sounds all right when it gets loud."
"Yeah," D.J. said. "That
could be the stuff," although "stuff" isn't exactly
the word he used.
Interesting - the group I had approached
earlier had warned me of this when I said the music was supposed
to turn dealers off.
Macano had warned.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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