They’ll be comin’ round the fountain when they come…

A week or so ago, a small armada of Ford Model Ts left New York on their way here to Seattle in commemoration of a transcontinental race that took place in 1909 and followed pretty much the same route across America to end at the University of Washington’s Alaska Yukon Exposition that year. The winner of that race was initially announced to be a Model T, and Ford wasted no time in capitalizing on that news to get a jump on sales of what became America’s first favorite car. The fact that a different car was announced the winner after it was discovered that the Model T team had replaced their engine midway through the race has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm with which Model T fans remember the event.

Like the original, the commemorative journey ended at Drumheller fountain on the UW campus. We were there this morning at 10 a.m. to greet them along with several hundred fans of the Model T, or maybe of automotive history in general, and a brass band that included members in full regalia.

A brass band gives the event that certain... SOMEthing!

A brass band gives the event that certain... SOMEthing!

Mara had been looking forward to this for some time. She calls all vintage cars Chitty cars, after the star of one of her favorite movies and mine, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). We parked on the Ave and walked under increasingly grey skies through the west side of the campus into Red Square, then down Rainier Vista to the fountain, which was leaping about as festively as a ton of duckwater can manage. We heard the band playing on the far side of the circle of the fountain and joined the little crowd there. A few were dressed in the garb of the 20th century’s first decade, women in thickly layered dresses holding parasols and men in smart bow ties and bowler hats.

The ladies were truly scrumptious.

The ladies were truly scrumptious.

The excitement surprised me. The cars, scheduled to arrive “between 10 and 11”, were not yet there. The band played a few tunes, and I was aware of a growing delight within me that there seemed to be some confusion among the crowd as to how the cars would actually get into the fountain area, and from which direction they would arrive. I must say, having a brass band play, with their earnest imprecision and wind carrying away both their notes and their sheet music, really brought a charm and — what — I guess a humble kind of dignity if I might suggest an oxymoron, to the occasion. It made me realize, comparing this atmosphere to that of last weekend’s city-sponsored fireworks event, how much I dislike the fact that the putters-on of the Independence Day display feel the need to blast a recorded soundtrack of popular music during the bursting of rockets, as though without music to give the fireworks form and meaning we would all be bored out of our skulls and not know what to do.

By contrast, with just a few toots today’s homespun, local, and (I suspect) volunteer musical corps succeeded in creating an atmosphere perfectly suited to the occasion. Their music framed and elevated the arrival of the Chitty cars to a place of legend.

"They'll be comin' round the fountain when they come... aa-oooo-gah!"

"They've arrived! Aa-oooo-gah!"

A ripple of happy alarm charged through the crowd like a P-wave, and we turned to see a line of the jolly motorcars descending Rainier Vista toward the fountain. I lifted Mara up so she could see as they broke into two columns and circled the fountain on each flank, then met in the middle on the other side, right where we were. The cars parked all in a tight angled formation so we could talk to the drivers, admire their simple engines and beautiful paint jobs, and pose in front of them.

These beauties made me miss my old VW bug, a car whose engine anyone could work on.

These beauties made me miss my old VW bug, a car whose engine anyone could work on.

Mayor Nickels was due to speak, as was the president of the university, but we didn’t stay for any of that. A rainstorm opened up on us just as the cars were all getting parked, and we were soaked under a 15-minute gullywasher (go figure, no rain all season and then this). Mara and Angela both have colds, so after talking to one driver from Essex, Great Britain tell us how he’d put his Model T on a boat in England to get it to New York, snapping a photo of two anachronistically attired ladies, and listening briefly to a another group in period costume sing a gladsome song, we beat it back to our own Chitty car (Mara calls our Subaru Forester Chitty, though it neither flies nor floats, that I know of), and went home to eat chicken noodle soup.

Mara and Mommy pose with a sporty red one moments before the heavens burst.

Mara and Mommy pose with a sporty red one moments before the heavens burst.

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23 Responses to “They’ll be comin’ round the fountain when they come…”


  1. 1 Kip July 13, 2009 at 22:40

    This is amazing. Not long ago, I passed more than a few of these vehicles westbound on the backroads around our subdivision. I had taken Will on a car ride, the only way to keep him calm after the tonsil removal, and I was interested to see 4 or more clusters of these very cool cars. Some of the drivers were in traditional garb, as well. Did we cast our eyes upon the same automobiles? I wonder……

    • 2 jstwndrng July 13, 2009 at 23:32

      Supposedly, they travelled on the roads that most closely matched the original route, if that’s any clue. Hope the kid is recovering well.

  2. 3 Kip July 13, 2009 at 23:59

    Will has come out of the long recovery road well, and just recently! After doing a little searching on the web-thingy, it would seem that Will and I did indeed see the cars participating in the race! How cool is that, I had no idea what I was looking at at the time, and had even forgot about it all together, now it all makes sense!

  3. 5 Louis July 15, 2009 at 12:20

    Interesting your thoughts on the “recorded soundtrack of popular music” during the fireworks on the 4th. I was having similar thoughts late last night watching the baseball all-star game.

    During the introductions of the players, former players and even the President of the United States, there was this maudlin
    “Field of Dreams” soundtrack playing over the P.A. system. The music annoyed me as I was certain that the baseball fans of St. Louis – and those watching on tv – understood and appreciated this celebration of the national pastime without having to be poked with an emotion stick. To paraphrase you, it’s as if without this music, the people would not know what to feel, what to think.

    This struck me particulary when 88 year-old St. Louis Cardinal legend, Stan Musial, was introduced. I didn’t realize he was still with us, and I was surprised and excited to see him. But at the same time I was enjoying this moment, I was bothered by the sappy soundtrack informing me that this was indeed a special moment. Yeah. Thanks for the tip. Aa-oooo-gah!

    • 6 jstwndrng July 15, 2009 at 16:10

      Louis,
      Exactly!! You expanded elegantly on my thought…we don’t need the poking…we “understand and appreciate” already, or we don’t, or we do in different ways. Maybe that’s the fear…that we won’t all understand the same way, and putting a mid-road soundtrack on our public events might be a way of steering us all down the same cattle-shute into the same safe paddock. I think this aggravates me so much because of a longstanding gripe I have with being told what my experience is, or what it should be. I’m still unravelling what my own experiences and feelings about everything mean to me, so the “emotional stick poking” really bugs. But we’re getting awfully deep into the volcano here and close to the hot core…lotta sulphur down here…better retreat to the surface…can’t… breathe…

      On the plus side, they picked good songs, normal people enjoyed it, and even I with my chronic oppositionalism had a great time.

    • 7 jstwndrng July 15, 2009 at 16:17

      On the other hand, what a dork I am. Do I not recognize what a brass band is? It’s the very essence of being told what to think and feel. It’s a pomp and circumstance inflation team. But I like the brass band and I bristle at the recorded soundtrack. Sup with that. Maybe it’s a matter of scale. Maybe there are some Luddite issues here, too, since the recorded soundtrack represents the juggernaut of technology overwhelming all in its path. Anyway, I allow myself, Whitman-like, to contradict myself.

  4. 8 Louis July 15, 2009 at 21:14

    Hm. You make a solid point about the purpose of the brass band. But unlike the canned music on the 4th and the pseudo-John Williams’ score at the all-star game, a live band makes a connection with people in an honest, organic way that – when played well – can touch the soul and trigger emotions much in the same way a good piece of theatre or dance can.

    Too often recorded music feels like just so much fluff used as filler in an attempt to extract some kind of feeling. No real thought is put into the music selection. It’s all hastily thrown together and feels much like a soundtrack to an uninspired Hollywood formula film, using songs that have been time-tested and overplayed for decades.

    Living in Vancouver, I attended many junior hockey games of the Vancouver Giants (high-level amateur hockey, players 15-21 years old). The canned music played at these junior hockey games hasn’t changed in 25 years: AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest Gary Glitter. All hockey, all testosterone, all heavy rock, all the time. While I never liked this kind of music 25 years ago when I attended Thunderbirds games in Seattle, I tolerated it with the hope that the music would evolve. It never did.

    Once after a close loss by the home team, as fans were filing out, Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” played over the loudspeakers. I thought that was great. Someone had actually put some thought into it. But someone else must’ve complained, because I never heard it or anything like it at a hockey game again.

    That’s life!

  5. 9 scott July 15, 2009 at 21:23

    Hey Matt,
    You asked me to comment, so here it is. Its a pleasure being able to read your blog since we don’t get to chat much. Just thought I’d leave the link for my blog in case you are interested:

    http://slouchhat.blogspot.com/

    Take it easy,

    Your nephew scott.

    • 10 jstwndrng July 16, 2009 at 16:54

      Hiya Scott,
      Glad to hear from you. I went over and read your blog posts and have commented. I really hope you keep that up. By the way, I love that image of the Volunteer Park water tower. Is that you and your sweetie in the photo? Kip and I (and Jeff, God bless him wherever he is), once ran up there and chanced to fall into a rhythm-step with each other while we were ascending the spiral stair, and the pounding of our feet on the metal resounded through that huge space and sounded like stormtroopers approaching. When we got to the top, the people up there looked really relieved to see just three punk kids huffing and puffing. They probably thought it was a military drill.

  6. 11 Kip July 16, 2009 at 05:01

    Wow, interesting sub-thread about the music and fireworks and the like. I have noticed that, no matter the reason for fireworks, there is always music. In fact, local radio groups are always keen on telling their listeners to make sure to take the portable radio along so they can watch the fireworks and enjoy the synchronized music. As I work for one of those radio groups, and have had to help synchronize the music…I can tell you it really ain’t that synced up. And I do agree, it would me nice to just sit back and watch the show (be it fireworks or a sporting event) and not be forced to listen to the tunes. In the interest of full discloser, it is my job to produce commercials for radio, and I do try to pick music for the spots that conveys a feeling….or at least something that matches up with the tone of the spot. This is a great topic. If it was not so late, I could go on…but I’m being told to wrap it up!

    • 12 jstwndrng July 16, 2009 at 16:09

      Kip, I love you. Up to and including tax evasion, anything you do is exempted from my arbitrary, hastily considered, ill-informed and widely-cast pronunciations, which are easy to make when you’re not thinking of anyone in particular. I’m sure I would be amazed at any firework soundtrack you put together and I would be blogging about how my friends have so much talent. Again, I fall back on Uncle Walty – “do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself” — I assume this is all understood, but in my experience most things that “go without saying” usually go better with saying.

  7. 13 Louis July 16, 2009 at 12:02

    As I was in a hypnopompic state this morning, I had a revelation: Fireworks and John Philip Sousa. Be it live or pre-recorded, hearing a rousing “Washington Post” or “Stars and Stripes Forever” to the explosion of fireworks puts me into a major, pavlovian celebratory mood.

    Kip, with radio commercials and the placement of music, as you point out, there is an intent to create a tone that conveys a feeling. This also takes place in television commercials, tv programs and movies. It makes up a part of how you draw attention,engage and entertain the listener/viewer to the commercial/story. (When I was living in Vancouver, I did voiceover for various radio spots)

    But this conveyance doesn’t sit well with me during live events such as the aforementioned baseball all-star game. Having a little music in the background between innings while folks are getting their hot dogs or perhaps a well-placed clip of a song to introduce the next batter (eg: Jay “Bone” Buhner and George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”)are no big deal.

    But a Hollywood-style soundtrack (think John Williams or “Field of Dreams”) being played while baseball legends are being introduced forces the issue. It’s contrived. It’s as if the music is cuing you to emote: “Don’t miss this! LOOK! LEGENDS OF BASEBALL..THEY’RE COMING OUT OF THE CORNFIELDS. This is your cue to get misty! 3-2-1 and CUE TEARS!”

    But with the appearances of Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, et. al, baseball fans don’t need any prompting.

    I am going to shut up now. I’m enjoying this topic too much.

    • 14 jstwndrng July 16, 2009 at 16:06

      Oops, how rude of me. “Kip, Louis. Louis, Kip.” We all went to Bellevue Jr. and Sr. Highs together, though Louis was a year or two older and I actually only just met him online while googling for a picture of Uncle Harold’s hobby shop. Besides having in common our alma maters (matae? mati?), you boys are both in radio, and Louis’ voice is something of a celebrity in cartoons.

      Feel free to carry on, you radioheads, I’m working on a huge post for next time.

      Louis. “hypnopompic”? Don’t make me reach for my Merriam-Webster’s!

  8. 15 Louis July 16, 2009 at 22:31

    So, we’re all Wolverines here, are we? Let us smoke cigars and chortle about football and other high school shenanigans..Hi Kip. I knew a Kip in high school. Do you play guitar?

    I confess I had to look up “hypnopompic” as I often experience this “state of consciousness leading out of sleep”, yet never knew the word for it.

  9. 16 Kip July 17, 2009 at 02:33

    Louis, a pleasure to meet you! I sort of play guitar, I have the basic chords down, but have not picked one up in years. I remember fondly playing guitar with Matt in the house in the U district! I was posting in quite a haze last night, and must admit Matt that I did not pick the music, just was responsible for getting it tow the right stations at the right time. I agree Louis, John Philip Sousa really is the most appropriate choice for anything firework. It does seem as if at certain times at certain events we are being told if you will what to think and how to feel. I have recently started to listen to a number of old radio shows, from Superman to Sherlock Hol to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It’s fascinating to listen to each and see how they use music to guide you to certain feelings, whether it be fear or surprise, or something else. It seems in tune with the show, not forced. I once heard someone comment about an NBA game that they should have a special night where they actually played the game, and skipped all the drama. I guess Seattle doesn’t have to worry about that anymore!

    Louis, you’re in radio? Where, in Seattle? I’ve been in Boise now for a scary 20 years, 19 at the same company, believe it or not!

    Matt, great memory of running up that tower! I had forgotten that!

  10. 17 Louis July 18, 2009 at 10:53

    I was in the film/radio/tv industry in Vancouver, B.C. for about 10 years. I did voiceover for radio commercials and some tv spots.

    Kip, I enjoy old radio shows too. And to think many of them (if not all?) were broadcast live with an organist and/or orchestra to help paint the picture and tell the narrative.

    THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT.

    I’ve been thinking about my favorite scenes in movies where the soundtrack plays a prominent part. In the film The Right Stuff Dennis Quaid is driving a convertible, and a rockabilly tune entitled “Rocket In My Pocket” is playing on the radio. Another favorite is a scene in the Godfather when Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) flies to Hollywood to meet the bigshot producer, Jack Woltz. As his plane is landing in La-La land, Tommy Dorsey’s “Manhattan Serenade” is serenading. And another yet is Strauss’ “Blue Danube” in 2001: Space Odyssey. I could go on, (and it appears I already have) but

    THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT.

    I think with live events, pro sports in particular, there is a need to constantly fill up space with as much entertainment as possible to justify the price of tickets.

    • 18 jstwndrng July 18, 2009 at 15:47

      Lou,
      There’s a brilliant if disturbing scene in the original Highlander, where Clancy Brown (a favorite of mine) as the Kurgan has stolen a car and drives away with an old woman in it. She cringes as he careens all through Manhattan, scaring motorists and even driving up on the sidewalks at high speed. The music that accompanies the beginning of this devilish joyride is a heart-thumping staccato instrumental by Queen, but as the camera eventually starts drawing away to show the greater city, with all its lights and beautiful bridges and its ability to absorb all horrors and normalize them, the music becomes a rendition of Sinatra’s New York New York! It’s my vote for the most brilliant moment of movie scoring.

  11. 19 Louis July 18, 2009 at 11:24

    Oops. The previous post accidently posted, before I was able to clarify an idea. I wanted to say that I think with live events, pro sports in particular, there is a BELIEF that they need to constantly fill up space with as much entertainment as possible to justify the price of tickets.

    So they borrow from Hollywood to give the “viewer” (ie. fan) the “full entertainment package”. But sporting events, to quote Jim McKay, should be about “…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…” (and, yes, sometimes an event is even a clunker)

    Nice to meet you, Kip. I hope I’m keeping the ranting down to a minimum. You mentioned you guys lived in the U-district. Did you go to UW together?

  12. 20 jstwndrng July 18, 2009 at 15:55

    Rant away, Lou,
    In the interest of protecting the anonymity and/or reputation of my small and cherished commenting community, I’ll let Kip tell what he wants to admit about knowing me (I’ll claim he’s one of the two best friends I ever had, but he might want to distance himself with some disclaimers!)

    Maybe there will be a future post about our house in the U-district, which we called the Spoon.

  13. 21 Kip July 18, 2009 at 17:43

    Ah, yes, the Spoon! No, I attended a small Liberal Arts college in Caldwell Idaho named aptly enough, The College Of Idaho! I took a year off before becoming a senior and had the very real pleasure of having Matt as a roomy. Those were some very good times…those that I can recall! Jeez Matt, I’ll freely admit to knowing you how many years now….34 years, 35? And while the connection was lost for a while, I still had our friendsjp firmly in the “Best” category. At this point I have prolly 2 best frinds, and naturally one of them is my wife. Says lots that one can call someone a best friend and not have seen or spoken to that person for more than a decade!!!!!!! Rats, a baby is crying and a toddler’s Blue’s Clues movie has ended….must dash!

  14. 22 Louis July 19, 2009 at 10:51

    Wait!….does Blues Clues have a good soundtrack?

  15. 23 Kip July 24, 2009 at 04:24

    Well, Ray Charles plays the part of Mr. G Clef….makes it all worth it!


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