At Least Three Philly Gas Stations Are Now Using Opera to Fight Crime

I would have gone with Norwegian death metal or that insufferable Barney song on constant loop. But what do I know?

a speedway gas station in the germantown section of Philadelphia that is blaring opera from outdoor speakers, apparently to keep looters and other problems away

A Speedway gas station in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood that is blaring opera from outdoor speakers, in an effort to keep loiterers and other problems away (Photo by Victor Fiorillo)

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Speedway Gas Stations In Philadelphia Using Opera to Fight Crime

It’s 9:15 a.m. on Thursday morning, and I’m standing in the parking lot of the Speedway gas station at 102 East Chelten Avenue in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. There are anti-loitering signs displayed everywhere. There are also signs on the gas pumps reading: “Due to safety concerns and increasing complaints, we cannot allow loiterers or panhandlers to pump gas. We will turn off the pump.”

But I was less interested in the signage as I was in the sounds wafting through the air.

From the left, I am getting an earful of Young Jeezy’s “Lose My Mind” emanating from a Grand Marquis at the pump, the gut-punching prominence of the song’s synth bass line suggesting a substantial subwoofer system. From the right, though, I’m getting something much different. It’s coming from some caged-in white speakers on the outside of the Speedway’s convenience store, a store you can’t walk into. All transactions are done through one of those sliding drawers, not that dissimilar to the one employed by Hannibal Lecter and Agent Starling in Silence of the Lambs.

I can’t tell exactly what I’m hearing from those speakers. Not because it’s not loud; it is. More because I am, like the vast majority of Americans, not an opera buff. So I texted a tiny snippet to an opera-loving friend who, coincidentally, lives near said Speedway.

“The chromaticism of the first half makes me think of Wagner,” was his opera-nerd reply. “My guess? Rienzi.” (One of Wagner’s early operas.)

Soon, the parking lot was treated to what I’m pretty sure was Maria Callas followed by Pavarotti. My opera friend (everybody needs at least one) says there was some José Carreras thrown in at one point.

This isn’t the only Speedway in Philadelphia broadcasting opera from external speakers. I’ve confirmed that the Speedway gas station at 1801 West Hunting Park Avenue in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia is doing so. As is the Speedway at the intersection of Erie Avenue and I Street in Juniata. Both are also giving customers a dose of Puccini and Pagliacci on a regular basis.

While some Speedway employees referred me to corporate (still waiting to hear from corporate), two did offer explanations. One told me that the company is using the opera music to “keep the beggars away.” Another said the opera is to “stop people from hanging around who cause problems.”

But why opera? Not that torturing people and trying to keep people from hanging around your establishment are quite the same thing, but in all my research I did on the use of music in torture (OK, it amounted to 15 minutes), I couldn’t find one instance of opera being the chosen genre of torturers.

In fact, opera can have a calming effect, and due to the very nature of opera (it’s telling a dramatic story over a longer period of time than most “hits” today), a loiterer might be inclined to stick around to see where things are going, no? Maybe I am giving 21st-century society too much credit. But if it were me programming music for Speedway, I’d put the Barney theme song or some Norwegian death metal on a constant loop.

I asked Frank Luzi, the vice-president of marketing and communications of Opera Philadelphia, what he thought of the idea of opera being a deterrent.

“We’d be happy to help convert their loiterers to opera fans by curating a playlist for them,” was his response.

I’ll let you know when I hear back from Speedway corporate about their amusing crime-deterrant technique.

And This Was Before The Super Bowl

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