Ambiance. Aura. Atmosphere.
Cacophony. Clangour. Commotion.
It leant far closer to the latter three than the former.
On a Thursday night in Auckland, I was out to catch up with a close friend for a late dinner. I had hunted through an app I use when I travel, to scour online reviews and find the best spot for a meal and a chat (such apps are a bizarre example of where technology, a platform to publically share personal opinions, anonymity, and a bunch of average people all come together and actually manage to provide something of some benefit to the world).
This friend was one of the ones you can sit and talk for hours with without catching a breath. The poor waiter approaches and retreats four times to ask if you've had a chance to look at the menu yet. Conversation is like a bountiful harvest, with ample to pick from, and after a productive few months for us both, we were behind schedule.
So, we caught an Uber to somewhere I had found which had been enjoyed greatly by many before us, enough so that they had felt the desire to share it. Conversation in the Uber was great, although it's always a little contrived when you have a stranger sitting in the car with you.
It was like an entrée for conversation, before the real entrées are served. By the time we got there, I was very ready for the main course.
We made our way through the door of the restaurant.
Oomph. It was like walking up the stairs in the dark, when you expect there to be one more (or one less step) than there is, and you get snapped out of auto pilot. The shock is enough to erupt something inside your mind. Time slows down. You can feel every synapse firing inside your head, like a lightning storm.
You have superhuman reflexes and precise control over every single part of your body. It must be what drugs feel like, or what an ancient warrior felt while focusing his mind's energy for battle. All that, and what you've actually done is trip over the same stairs you've been climbing for years now.
Or in this case, you've walked into a restaurant with all the pleasant tenor of a steelworks. This place made some of the few clubs seen inside look like libraries in comparison.
But we took our table. It quickly became all too apparent that even though the overbearing din of indistinguishable noises apparently emanating from no particular source wasn't going to make conversing impossible, it was certainly going to make it comical, as we leant in to the middle of the table, teetered on the edge of our seats, and yelled at each other from about an inch apart.
There was no choice. I needed my voice for the next morning, so we were left communicating through facial expression and lip reading alone. Maybe the people at tables around us sitting on their phones were actually texting each other to save their voices.
It turns out you can understand a lot from someone's eyes, but not how their new job is going. So, I got brave and asked a waitress if we could be moved to somewhere a bit quieter. She obliged.
The food was superb, and the conversation was better, and the company was the best of all. But had it not been for the small table tucked around the corner, it would have been ringing ears and a croaky voice, or a silent conversation.
Since then I've only noticed it more and more when I've been out. Shared dining spaces, particularly later at night, all offer that compilation of human sounds which I find so comforting when I'm dining alone in a strange place for work, but which once it reaches a certain tipping point of volume, becomes an irritating dissonance.
What's worse is that in half of these places, the volume of conversation is only driven up by the volume of the "background" music blaring out across the floor. It's like eating a packed lunch on the floor amidst a disco or orchestral rehearsal, depending on what the staff have picked to berate you with today.
I spend half the meal looking around, trying to figure out if I could really be the only one in here perturbed by the fact I can't hold a conversation with the person beside the person beside me, because I'm apparently leaning up against the drummer's floor tom, or the cellist's music stand.
I'm not (usually) just there to stuff my face, I actually need to be able to hold a conversation. Maybe review apps need the ability to filter by volume as well.