ST. PETERSBURG — Ellen Pavone woke with a start Friday morning.
Oh no, she thought. Here they come.
Her husband, Emil, was already up. After all, the retiree had a busy day of civic work ahead, a task that requires focus. To top off his natty suit and neck tie, he arranged a pair of sartorially horrific firing range headphones acquired during his time with the Wyoming Antelope Club.
That way, things sound a little more …
When the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg speeds in each year, downtown residents like the Pavones must adapt or scoot.
"Listen to it," he said. "It's so disruptive to our lives."
From their 13th floor Bayfront Tower unit laced with Umberto Eco books and fine art, the Pavones have a view fans would envy. They watched the race its first year, but that got old real quick.
Now, they sequester themselves in an insular office room, serene boats gliding by on glassy water on the screen saver.
Ellen has hearing like a dog. Emil, who refuses to tell his age but reluctantly admits to fighting in World War II, did not fare so well. His hearing suffered in the field artillery behind those big guns. He wears hearing aids.
Race time, he pops them out. Then, he puts in ear plugs. Then, the headphones.
As president of the Downtown Residents Civic Association, he spends his days mired in city issues like preserving the waterfront, helping local students find jobs and curtailing crime.
Tourism is great, but he thinks the Grand Prix is the wrong draw. The event's wiry fences make the city look like a labor camp, he said. He considers the noise pollution, not to mention an ordinance blaster.
And it's loud. Really loud.
Honda engineers answered the call of the weary by developing a quieter exhaust system for its IndyCars. Now, the pipes curve and blow exhaust out the top of the chassis instead of the bottom. A bigger exhaust canister also helps smooth the sound.
The noise reduction, said Honda IndyCar spokesman Dan Layton, is between 20 percent and 25 percent.
"For the first time, I can actually carry on a conversation in the pit lane without having to yell at people right next to me," Layton said. "It's something we all wanted. Noise is tiring. It makes it harder to get your work done."
Emil thinks cars are fascinating. He has an engineering background and finds the inner workings most complex. He is skeptical, though, that this new exhaust system does a hoot for his ears.
On the Pavones' balcony. A sound level meter clocks the noise at 102 decibels. Inside, it's 89.
A lawn mower is 90. A rock concert is 110.
"Doesn't appear quieter to me," Emil said.
Of course, not everyone shares the Pavones' sentiment. On a stroll through the building, Emil encounters neighbors who compliment his suit but tell him they think the whole race is grand. He doesn't hold it against them.
He walks into the parking garage to show the lack of cars. People pack it up and go on vacation this time each year, cut bait and leave the city.
Why don't the Pavones leave, too?
"I always just have too much …"
"… to do."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.