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Listen Up: They May Grow To Like This

March 5, 2006
Commentary By Helen Ubiņas

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 on wheels.

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.

"They're adaptable," Macano had warned.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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