Sound advice about kids and cars


NOW THAT school is out for the summer, I am spending more time with my kids. This means I am spending more time fighting about what comes out of the car radio.

We don't share the same taste in audio entertainment. To my ears, the stuff that my kids listen to all sounds like "Boom shockalocka! Boom shockalocka!"

To their ears, the stuff that I like to listen to sounds like "fogeys talking softly."

So when I get in the car with the 13-year-old, our hands race for the knobs on the car sound system, trying to establish audio control.

Radio wars have been around for generations. I recall trying to get my father to play some rock and roll on the radio of our family's 1957 Ford. I also remember losing those battles.

I can't imagine my dad sitting at a stoplight while rap music boomed out of the family's four-door sedan. That is the position I found myself in recently as the voice of a rapper, whom I am told is known as Beenie Man, rolled out of our car, filling an intersection with the question "Who got the keys to my Beamer?"

As people in nearby vehicles turned and looked at our car, I knew they were asking themselves, "Why is that old guy listening to rap music?" I wanted to proclaim, "It is not my music," and point to my 13-year-old son sitting in the passenger seat. But that tactic would be embarrassing as well. It would be an admission that I had lost a radio-war skirmish to a kid. So I just stared straight ahead, refusing to make eye contact with folks in nearby cars, and hoping that the light would change to green real soon.

I do have a radio-war strategy. It is the same one the Russians used when they battled the Germans in World War II. It is called waiting them out. I know that eventually the 13-year-old will be old enough to get a driver's license and will stop riding with his parents.

He will spend his summer evenings wheeling around town, while his mother and I will be home, trying to go to sleep. Sometime in the night we will be awakened as our teen-ager pulls into the driveway, rattling the bedroom windows with vibrations from the car sound system.

I have confidence this is the way things will unfold with the 13-year-old because this is basically what happened with his older brother. Now I rarely battle with the 17-year-old about the car radio, because we are rarely in the car at the same time.

In an attempt to keep down the hostilities, the younger kid and I are trying to reach a few car-radio accords.

I have agreed to let him listen to "his music" as long as I control the volume. The kid has figured out how to adjust the car sound system so the speaker located close to me is muted while the one located close to him is at full strength.

We are working on "station surfing." The kid likes to frequently switch stations, working the buttons on the radio until he finds his favorite tunes. This station-hopping drives me crazy.

Now we are experimenting with "silent switching," in which the kid switches stations but does so with the sound turned down.

So as we roll down the road of life, there is some tension in the family car. I am gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter, and turning the radio volume knob down. The kid is hunting for his favorite tunes, wishing he could pump up the volume.

But we have our moments. Yesterday morning, for instance, as we cruised down the Jones Falls Expressway, one of his favorite songs, "Ghetto Supastar," featuring the work of an artist once known as Ol' Dirty Bastard, came over the airwaves.

"I like having you in the car," the kid told me. "You're good luck."

At least that is what I think he said.

All I could hear for sure was "Boom Shockalocka!"

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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