“I took a deep breath, went outside, and very politely asked him to stop with the megaphone”

by Prince Of Petworth August 1, 2016 at 12:55 pm 50 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rukasu1

“Dear PoPville,

I live on the corner of 11th and Mass Ave NW and have been enjoying a man selling cold water on the corner yelling “ice cold!” from mid morning through rush hour. It has been annoying when working from home, but city life is what it is.

Yesterday though he turned it up a notch with a megaphone that featured a siren and a classical music jingle in all its 8 bit glory. This made it impossible to work from home (if it was a sick day I would have lost it).

I took a deep breath, went outside, and very politely asked him to stop with the megaphone, which he seemed receptive to, but his wife was not and as soon as I went inside it continued.

Just looking for advice/suggestions or info on noise ordinance rules, this does not feel like it needs a call to the police, just lose the megaphone.

  • **

    I would politely ask him again, and if it doesn’t fix, I’d ask him a third time with a caveat like “please, or else I will have to involve MPD.” If that doesn’t resolve it, unfortunately you may not have many options.

    I fully believe in transparency in matters like that and letting him know you don’t want to involve MPD, but you may have little choice if it is that disruptive.

    • Yeah, in my experience it’s not any law about noise they’ll get him for, but selling without a permit/vending license.

      • Anon

        Correct. The city’s noise ordinances are a mess, and of little use for noise that doesn’t come from a mechanical source from a licensed business (like HVAC or construction noise). But the vending laws are relatively straight forward.

      • I am not 100% but I think you aren’t allowed to use sound enhancers such as microphones or megaphones if on the street conducting business or protest [without a proper permit].
        So you could call MPD for cause – but again, not 100% on that.

      • GBinCH

        The Noise Control Act of 1996 established maximum noise levels, and exceeding these can result in fines, etc. For commercial areas its 65 dB(A) and for residential it’s 60 db(A) during the day. I’m not sure if a megaphone is that loud though.

      • P. Lecheval

        Correct. They have officers who enforce vending permits, and they’re pretty strict about enforcement. Like pretty much anything that involves the District not getting their cut of the action.

        • textdoc

          Wouldn’t that be DCRA, though? Not MPD?

          • P. Lecheval

            Yes, it’s DCRA.

          • An MPD officer in my neighborhood gave a guy a ticket for vending without a license for selling bootleg porn on the corner.

          • Someone

            Selling!? It’s free, like everywhere.

          • Anon

            Actually MPD does the primary enforcement for vending without a license because DCRA does not have authority over people who are not licensed. In other words, if they aren’t licensed, DCRA can’t make them do anything.

        • textdoc

          Anon — Thanks for the clarification. The division of labor among different D.C. agencies is puzzling at times.

  • JoDa

    Not even hyperbole, I suggest you move. MPD is responsible for enforcing the daytime noise ordinance for issues like this, but every time I have requested they do so, they claim that they are not responsible and/or are unaware of that law and there’s nothing they can do but kindly ask the person to stop. Showing them the second document below has resulted only in an “I’ve never seen that” and nothing else.
    Outlining that MPD is responsible: http://dcra.dc.gov/service/noise-regulations
    From MPD, note the last sentence: “If the noise is made at night or does not involve noncommercial public speaking, the Mayor shall not be required to measure the decibel level of
    the noise to find a noise disturbance.” (This noise is commercial, so they could cite without any measurements): http://mpdc.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dcra/publication/attachments/Noise_handbook_2011_DCRA_0.pdf

    • TJ

      The guy is selling cold water. They might be able to hold out for a few weeks…

    • Anon

      Yes, that is what the regulations say, but what is written in law can’t always be implemented. In this case:

      1) The Office of the Attorney General will not prosecute because the law does not say that a violation can be sustained without being shown to have exceeded the decibel threshold.
      2) Under the same section, DCRA is still the agency required to measure the noise to establish that there is a violation.
      3) It is exceedingly difficult to meet the standards for measuring the noise when it is a human source, instead of a mechanical source. For instance, the regulations require repeat measurements of the source and ambient noise. When inspectors ask a human to make the same level of noise so that they can measure it in order for MPD to arrest them, the individuals are pretty reluctant to do so.
      4) Believe it or not, the noise readings also have to be taken in certain weather conditions. Windy or wet conditions — even high humidity — can invalidate the readings.

      Bottom line — the regulations seem to have been written by a lawyer and engineer, with no thought to practicality, and the Council is not interested in changing them.

  • stacksp

    1) Probably doesn’t take kind to being asked/told what to do and 2) Probably doesn’t see a choice as its part of his marketing efforts to earn money to put food on his plate.

    No advice really

    Oh and
    3) His wife told him not to stop most likely lol… Probably the most important one lol

    • Anon X

      How dare someone interfere with someones efforts to put food on their plate, eh?

      • stacksp

        All guesses, not defending either party in the situation. The OP can just go ask him again, explaining the telework situation and see what happens before calling the authorities. Maybe they can come to a happy medium

      • Anon

        I think he’d sell just as much without making all that noise (especially since many of us will deliberately avoid people yelling into megaphones).

      • enough_is_enough

        Sadly, a few of these “water vendors” are selling a little more than water. The H street guys have been busted with selling heroin. I give them credit for the water disguise.

        • Anonymous

          Yup… “ICE! ICE! ICE (cold water). Selling ICE! ICE! ICE (cold water)”… right!

    • dcd

      Yes, he’s the modern-day Jean Valjean. Please

  • FarragutWorker

    Does anyone reading this work in Farragut Square and have to contend with the hugely amplified band that plays in front of Farragut North at least once a week? It is so loud in my office on Connecticut Ave NW that if I put in headphones I can still hear it. Would anyone be interested in making a concerted effort to ask them to quiet down?

    • FridayGirl

      I hear it going by on the bus all the time. It’s so loud that I’m always glad I don’t have to be there for a very long time. If they could turn it down just a little it might be nice…..

      • farragutworker

        no, spread love is great and doesn’t use amplification. the news guys use amps and sing the same 5 songs, sometimes for hours at a time.

    • TJ

      No, frankly there aren’t enough bands playing on the streets of DC, soul-less place that it is. Get better headphones.

      • farragutworker

        it’s not the bands, its the amplification. so loud that if you’re going down the escalators at farragut, you can’t have a conversation. i dont understand why they need amplification. it’s not appropriate to force an entire office building to listen to your music all day long

      • Rodney

        Do they have to play “The Saints” over and over? This isn’t New Orleans. Play some Duke Ellington or Go-go. Better yet use the tip money to take some more lessons.

    • siz

      ha, many a person has tried and failed, i believe.

  • WR

    If neither of those options work, your next step should be to start up a competing business on the other side of the street to divide the market and make it not worth his time. Then, after you’ve driven off the competition, you can monopolize the 11th/Mass NW market and have another form of income while working remote.

    • **


      Good Burger v. Mondo Burger

    • wdc

      Yes, brilliant! Sell artisanal water and fresh organic fruit and have a checkered table cloth. Maybe display the fruit in the basket of an old bicycle. Make it clear that you’ll close up shop as soon as he puts his damn megaphone away.

      • textdoc

        Don’t forget the ice program!

      • Bort

        Do all of this while wearing suspenders, and grow a weird moustache. How else am I supposed to know your sh*t is handmade and authentic?

        • Derek


        • TinkerTaylor

          Well, you could put a bird on it.

          • Bort

            nailed it

  • Sympathizer

    I’m certain I heard the exact duo while walking to lunch downtown last week. Frankly, I think there’s a cause of action against the inventor of a megaphone with Für Elise and siren sound effects.

    My instinct would be to report the (presumably) unlicensed vending, as others have suggested. Sure, maybe they’ll flee if they catch wind the authorities are on the trail, but their business model would seem to make them easy to track.

  • navyard

    I am so very sorry that so many people in this city believe that their rights are more important that other people’s rights. There is a deep-seated anger in so many people here that when you ask them to change something that they want to do, they really believe that you are “disrespecting” them.

    I guess I might try another way: If you go out (after another deep breath) and speak to one or both and explain that you are working inside (or that you have an infant sleeping inside if you want to kick it up a notch) and what do they suggest as a way to fix this situation? Basically, turn it into “our” problem and give them an opportunity to solve it. No idea if that will work, but if there is any piece of reason or humanity in either of them, then I would hope they would come up with a solution that you could live with.
    And then I’d call the cops and DCRA. Every time. Good luck.

    • FridayGirl

      Totally agree with this. Excellent negotiating tactic, navyard.

  • Bort

    I used to live at 12th and Mass NW and there was a dude with a megaphone (complete with sirens and other sound effects) who would occasionally bust out “White Christmas” and other favorites at like 3:30a.m., whether it was the holiday season or not. He’d also sometimes yell about “drug dealers” who were often trying to kick down his door, and ask, via megaphone out the window, for someone to please call the cops (he’d even provide his apartment number, and the apartment number(s) of the alleged drug dealers, which I thought were helpful details). My personal favorite was when (again, from maybe 3:00 – 5:30a.m.) he would try to entice the hookers working out front up to his place with this weird, creepy and hilarious spiel that sounded like something out of a pastor who is up to his eyeballs in the Holy Spirit’s playbook. I wonder if this is the same guy (who was always friendly when I’d bump into him around the neighborhood), and if so hopefully his water business is going well and his wife is either okay with or oblivious to the whole hooker thing.

    • FridayGirl

      Wait, is this the guy that gives sermons really loudly but in very hip-hop-esque language? He was on my bus once. I’d laugh it was the same guy. He didn’t seem like a megaphone kind of dude though.

      • Bort

        If he was giving the sermons from a bench in the little triangular island park where Mass and L cross b/w 11th and 12th, then maybe. He would hang out there fairly often yelling all kinds of crazy sh*t (including but not exclusively gospel-related things) through the megaphone. I can’t really recall seeing him around anywhere else though, maybe sometimes I saw him a few blocks down by NY Ave. He used the megaphone a LOT–the hooker-macking mentioned above was done via megaphone from his apartment on the 7th or 9th floor down to the street below. Also, dude seemed to favor his bicycle for transportation–not saying he never took the bus, but I’m also not not saying that.

  • Anon X

    Seems reasonable that DC pass some sort of busking law that creates zones where performance is forbidden, others where amplification is forbidden, and another zone where amplification cannot create a sound that is above a certain dB at 25 or 50 feet away.

    The stories of these bands performing so loudly outside of office buildings that interior conference rooms are disrupted is simply inexcusable. People have a right to perform in public space, but people also have a right not to be disturbed if they’re taking reasonable measures to be insulated (i.e. in a building).

    The fact that the city council reacted with such gusto to enact reforms for Uber and food trucks, I’m having trouble understanding why they cant pass an enforceable law on street performers.

    As for the subject of this post, I think in my new busking law, I’d clarify that using amplification to sell (with or without a permit) is forbidden unless the amplification only occurs for 2 minutes per hour in any given location (to allow for ice cream trucks).

    This is all perfectly reasonable. Plus, creating a regulatory framework around busking, would allow those who are interested in performing and viewing a predictable and structured way to engage.

  • Anon

    Reminds me of the kids in front of the Eastern Market CVS on the weekends, shouting ICE COLD! LEMONADE! ICE COLD! LEMONADE! Somehow their voices alone are louder and more piercing than any megaphone user.
    They’re cute as hell and very dedicated, but on more than one occasion I’ve gotten a splitting headache from walking near them.

  • victoria

    Buy a few cases of water at Costco, a cooler, ice & a megaphone then pay a homeless guy $20.00 to set up next to them offering FREE water.

    Also, have the Black Israelites finally gone away? I haven’t heard them spewing at CH metro all summer!! (Of course they are such wussies it might just be the heat.)

    • SassyinDC

      Believe my husband and I were driving past and saw them close to the Minnesota Ave. stop. We did a double take–do they wear elaborate clothing?

    • textdoc

      This made me LOL: “Buy a few cases of water at Costco, a cooler, ice & a megaphone then pay a homeless guy $20.00 to set up next to them offering FREE water.” Brilliant!!

    • LGinMtP

      Oh they’ve been out, I saw them a couple Saturdays ago, a little bit further North on 14th, in front of where Staples used to be


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