This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Los Angeles, and the never-ending sound of car alarms in the 1980s


When I lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s, there was the continuous sound of car alarms. Whether they were off in the distance, or nearby, it was 24/7. It never, ever, stopped. Never, ever. Day and night.

When I tell people about the continuous sound of car alarms, they usually imagine that it's a disturbing sound, but it wasn't. It was like the sound of a river that's always flowing, or the sound of waves crashing, or the sound of traffic that stays steady. You hear it at first, you get used to it, then you don't hear it anymore.

Of course, if a car alarm went off in the parking lot of my apartment complex, it would get your attention. Nowadays car alarms stop automatically after a few minutes, but that wasn't the case in the 1980s. I have a distinct memory of standing around with the crowd of people at about three am, looking at a van which had been blaring for hours. Even the police couldn't do anything. We all stood there staring at it. We couldn't talk to each other, it was too loud. After several hours it would wear out the battery, but that was about it. I remember seeing a tough guy kick a nice dent in the door of the van (no, not while the police were there!) and was surprised to find how easily doors dented. I suppose the person who owned the van returned to it to find the battery dead and the door dented, and had no idea what happened!

In a long life, surrounded by cars, I've never seen a car alarm that hadn't been set off by accident. Mine will go off in my garage if I grab my car key fob the wrong way, or if it gets squeezed in my pocket. And thankfully, the old "motion sensor" car alarms (which often went off when it was windy) are long gone. And hopefully the day will come when there won't be the sound of car alarms anymore, and car alarms will be outlawed.

When I left Los Angeles, my goal was to buy a house in a nice quiet suburb of Phoenix, which I did. I'm writing this on a Saturday morning, with all of the windows open, and there isn't a sound of car alarm to be heard. I can hear birds chirping, and it sounds like someone is working on something in their garage, or in their backyard.

Image at the top of this post: Warner Center, Woodland Hills, California in 1989.



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