Join 3,498 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Whistle sleuths, who/what's making noise in the middle of the night?
January 9, 2010 10:27 PM   Subscribe

My Chicago apartment faces an alley. Occasionally, in the middle of the night, I'll hear a series of three whistles coming from the alley.

At first I thought it was a person, but I heard it last night and thought it might be an owl or some other nocturnal bird because of the strong, steady tone of the sound. I asked some friends about it today, and they thought it was a signal to or from a drug dealer. If that's the case, it seems like cops could easily go undercover and bust the whistler.

So where's the whistle coming from? Is it a person or animal, and what kind of person or animal is it?
posted by tenaciousd to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Three whistles is sometimes a "come back" signal in dog training - it could be someone calling their dog.
posted by iconomy at 10:45 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hear a similar whistle in the alleyway behind my apartment, every day or every other day. I still haven't figured out what it is, so I'll be interested if anyone can provide info.

There are plenty of drugs and drug dealers in my immediate area, so that was my first thought.
posted by Ouisch at 10:52 PM on January 9, 2010


Without pegging it as a drug dealer thing, you can safely say it falls into the category of "sound being made so that nobody notices/is disturbed by the sound of my voice talking." Certainly something I heard in Chicago here and there at night, and only once witnessed a person doing to get the attention of someone inside the building so they could be let in.
posted by davejay at 11:00 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I doubt that the cops will be inclined to "easily go undercover and bust the whistler" unless you have proof that this is a significant drug deal of some kind.
posted by proj at 11:27 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to live in a nice working class neighborhood in Chicago. Sure there were drugs...but can you tell me where there aren't?

Anyways...some friends of friends moved into that exact same neighborhood after college because it was "REAL". These were the same people who gave me a tour of my old neighborhood. They pointed out that the 74 year old barber who had cut my hair since the age of 4 and gave me a copy of "A Bear Called Paddington" when he ran out of lollipops wasn't a real barber...he was a drug dealer.

Their reasoning:
The barber pole was sometimes spinning and sometimes not; it indicated whether he had a "stash" or not.

Ummm no.

I don't know what those whistles are, but try not to go the route of moving into a city and thinking anything you don't understand is related to the drug trade.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:31 PM on January 9, 2010 [18 favorites]


What kind of whistles?
posted by gjc at 12:42 AM on January 10, 2010


I had similar thoughts about some weird noises (not whistles) in the night near my apartment. It turned out to be noise reflected from a Tai Chi class of elderly people half a block away.

The whistles could be coming from vents, a low battery alarm on some electronic equipment, or a zillion other things. If you can catch it, walk around to echolocate where it's coming from.
posted by benzenedream at 12:43 AM on January 10, 2010


Record it with a good quality, and post it here. I could analyze it for you,and so could other people. Then you would have more data to go on.
posted by kapu at 1:19 AM on January 10, 2010


Thanks for the input so far. The reason why I initially thought it was drug-related is because it happened in the middle of the night. The timing and location--coming from an alley--made me think that was more likely the case than someone training their dog.

So I get the point that because I don't understand it does not mean it's drug-related. My point about the cops argues against the idea that it could be drug related. I would think they'd be more sophisticated.

I'll see what I can do about recording it.
posted by tenaciousd at 5:30 AM on January 10, 2010


Is there any "buzz-in" door on or near the alley that someone could be signaling they need to get into? If yes, the whistling might be a lot better than "Hey, Deloris, I'm in the alley, open the door!"
posted by Mid at 5:55 AM on January 10, 2010


Have you considered standing out there and making the same three whistles youself?
posted by davemee at 6:33 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I wouldn't normally suspect drugs, because I'm not a paranoid weirdo. But living in a neighbourhood where there are prostitutes walking the sidewalk in front of my house, where I've stumbled across used hypodermics several times, and where people regularly pass out in each other's front lawns...yeah. That tends to make me assume that strange noises aren't completely benign. Especially given that, in the alleyway where I hear my particular three whistles, there is a little apartment where different people come and go after short periods of time at all hours of the night.

So, I don't think it's completely out of line to sometimes assume things may be drug-related.
posted by Ouisch at 7:32 AM on January 10, 2010


Anecdotal: whistles and other sounds are commonly used in urban cultures to signal a variety of things, some of which may be drug-or-crime-related, e.g. that there's a cop car on the street, many of which are not. And as proj points out the idea that the police in Chicago would bother to "bust the whistler," even if drugs were involved, is highly unlikely.
posted by generalist at 7:42 AM on January 10, 2010


than someone training their dog.

I think iconomy's point was that the training had happened previously, and that the three whistles were an actual "come on home!" message to the dog out late at night.
posted by mediareport at 7:54 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in an apartment complex and have noticed that some people walk their dogs very late at night, so the "come on home" signal rings true to me (letting the dog out to piss and then calling it back in). It could also be a bird - there are some strange sounding birds in the city.

I think the only way for strangers to answer this question would be to record the whistle and post it.
posted by muddgirl at 8:17 AM on January 10, 2010


When I lived in a village in Guatemala, women were expected to stay home after dark while the men roamed the streets and got rowdy. So, considering half the population was home asleep in the early evening, the men would call their friends out from their homes by whistling specific whistles for specific people at the gates of their homes instead of yelling or knocking on doors. So maybe it's just someone calling their friend out at night trying to not to disturb everyone around them.
posted by greta simone at 8:33 AM on January 10, 2010


I think iconomy's point was that the training had happened previously, and that the three whistles were an actual "come on home!" message to the dog out late at night.

Thanks, mediareport, that's exactly what I meant.
posted by iconomy at 9:18 AM on January 10, 2010


If you hear this only once a night, I'd say it's pretty unlikely that it's drug related. Plus, drug customers and dealers have these things called "cell phones" now, whistling signals is so last millennium.
posted by telstar at 9:25 AM on January 10, 2010


I used to live in an area with lots of crime and violence. The whistles were absolutely related to drugs. Other responses saying that people use cell phones for hailing drug dealers are ignoring the facts of very poor areas where there are people without cell phones or are smart enough not to leave such a paper trail and just want to buy real quick off somebody who is around. The drug scene was very interesting to watch, there were different levels with different duties and it was very organized. While whistles sound like they would be inefficient, they work well in this situation.
posted by autoclavicle at 10:15 AM on January 10, 2010


The whistles were absolutely related to drugs. Other responses saying that people use cell phones for hailing drug dealers are ignoring the facts of very poor areas where there are people without cell phones or are smart enough not to leave such a paper trail and just want to buy real quick off somebody who is around.

Most urban drug trade simply is not sophisticated enough to have a coordinated series of whistles. Nor do drug dealers typically "hang out in alleys." These are misconceptions of the sheltered middle class.
posted by jayder at 10:32 AM on January 10, 2010


Thanks for the input so far. The reason why I initially thought it was drug-related is because it happened in the middle of the night. The timing and location--coming from an alley--made me think that was more likely the case than someone training their dog.

I walked my dog three times last night: 2200, 0000, and 0400. Why? Because he's a puppy (and needs to be walked that often), and because my wife and I live on the night shift--so night is the natural time for us to do anything.

While I suppose the whistles could be the drug trade at work, it could also be any number of things. And having lived in a very druggy neighborhood of Philly and never heard such a thing, I'd bet for something more innocuous.
posted by Netzapper at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2010


This is interesting because my last apartment in Chicago also faced an alley and I also heard whistling. In my case it was someone who was calling in their cats. It took years for me to put two and two together.
posted by marimeko at 11:26 AM on January 10, 2010


[it would be too funny if the whistling you describe were one and the same (Damen and Division-ish)..]
posted by marimeko at 11:34 AM on January 10, 2010


These are misconceptions of the sheltered middle class.

I'm thinking there could be more productive/less assy ways of making this point, especially in a thread where more than one person has come forward to say "I live/have lived in a very poor neighbourhood."
posted by Ouisch at 12:13 PM on January 10, 2010


Some more information about the whistling: It goes on for 30 - 45 seconds. They're a series of three, steady, mid-pitch whistles followed by a few seconds of silence. It's loud enough so that I can hear it through my windows, and it woke me up the other night. I've noticed it maybe on a monthly basis, but for all I know it could happen more frequently and I just haven't woken up. I've never heard it during the day.

I live near Clark/Fullerton in Lincoln Park, a nice neighborhood in Chicago. About four months ago, there was a string of late-night robberies and assaults, so while it's definitely not the roughest part of the city, it's certainly not immune to crime.

Thanks for all the input. Even if I we don't figure out what it is, it's been interesting to see how assumptions influence conclusions.
posted by tenaciousd at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2010


Keep in mind that although you hear the sound "coming from" the alley, it could be coming from anywhere. Alleys are long corridors with plenty of faces for noises to bounce off of. Sounds travel between buildings, from down the block, from above, etc.

I've been trying for five years to figure out which building on my alley has a smoke detector whose battery needs replacing (although since it's needed replacing for five years, maybe it's not actually a smoke detector -- but that's the sort of chirp it is.) I doubt I'll ever find out. It's just one of those mysterious and sometimes annoying sounds of the city. But here's the thing: I only hear it at night -- not because it's only there at night, but because that's the only time it's quiet enough for the little chirp to stand out.
posted by me3dia at 8:19 PM on January 10, 2010


"A friend" has broken into vacant, neighboring apartments in order to silence dying-battery smoke detectors (a bane of modern life).

However, their intermittent chirp is not what I'd call "a series of whistles."
posted by Rash at 10:24 PM on January 10, 2010


The whistle thing is a truism (at least here in Humboldt Park). I know because I saw it in action when my neighbors were selling herion. They practiced, every day, for a week before a shipment came in. Then a couple got Nextel phones so you could hear them chirping each other and talking about the trade. So, to answer your question: It is a person. Why they are whistling is unknown.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:48 AM on January 26, 2010


« Older What do I check if some one-va...   |  What was that short story abou... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.