Aug 1st, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

Another summer, another Seafair Torchlight Parade, the oldest, biggest, and (alas) clothed-est of Seattle’s three big summer parades.

It’s been billed by some local wags as a taste of the suburbs in the middle of town. But that’s not quite the case. A lot of the “forgotten Seattle” shows up too. Working families, even with children. Public school children even.

Some attendees chose to forego the standard T-shirts and shorts uniform.

Teachers’ union picketers showed up to appeal to the family friendly crowd, campaigning for increased school funding and fewer state-mandated tests.

Then the parade itself got underway with its new title sponsor, Alaska Airlines (replacing rival Southwest). In keeping with nostalgia for pre-TSA era air travel, Alaska featured an all-flight-attendant drill team.

Mr. Drew Carey was a thorough professional, shaking hands, kissing babies, selling soccer scarves.

Then, at last, came the real entertainment. The drill teams.

The marching bands.

The floats.

The Clowns and the Pirates.

Yes, the parade could become “hipper” (even while remaining G rated).

But why should it?

Squares need some celebration in their lives too.

Jul 30th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

sorry, maude, you didn't make the list

  • Julianne Escobedo Shepherd offers a list of 10 (American, prime time) “TV shows that changed the world.” It includes some of the usual suspects (Ellen, Mary Tyler Moore, the original Star Trek) but leaves out so many other possibilities. Where’s Yogi and Boo Boo in the same bed all winter, or all the early variety shows with interracial love-song duets?
  • Seattle PostGlobe, the spunky li’l local news and arts site started by ex P-I reporter Kery Murakami (and for which I posted a couple of pieces), is closing up shop after two years and change. With Murakami gone to Long Island, NY and many other original volunteer contributors off in other jobs (or other careers), the site had mainly become a spot for Bill White’s film reviews. Without the funding to maintain the site’s operation, let alone to build it into a stronger endeavor, its current boss (and cofounder) Sally Deneen is pulling the plug. She’s keeping it up in archival form.
  • In other local media news, technical workers at KIRO-TV have been at a labor impasse for some15 months now. The IBEW Local 46 claims they’re just trying to preserve contractual language “that respects their individual and collective rights that are afforded to them under federal law.”
  • Copper thieves have no respect for anyone or anything. Not even for the local branch of Gilda’s Club. That’s the drop-in cancer support center, named after Gilda Radner and housed in that fake Monticello office building at Broadway and East Union.
  • The bicyclist struck by a hit-and-run SUV Thursday? He was a photographer and office worker for an international health agency. And how he’s dead.
  • Wherever there’s a business with a predominantly male clientele, there’s somebody trying to attract female customers. The latest result comes from the UK branch of Molson Coors (you did know those beer companies had merged years ago, right?). They’re test marketing a pink beer for women. Even stranger: It’s called “Animée.” Which begs the question, would Sailor Moon drink it? How about the Ghost in the Shell?
  • Lee Fang sees a cartel of “shadowy right wing front groups” spending lotsa bucks to get Congress obsessed with “the deficit” (i.e., with dismantling anything government does to help non-billionaires) instead of the economy. I don’t think the drive is all that shadowy. These outfits, their funding sources, and their biases are well known and well documented—and still scary.
  • Dan Balz sees today’s Republicans as being at war against Democrats, against the middle class, against women, against sanity, and now against one another.
  • Remember: Tonight (Saturday the 30th) is the annual Seafair Torchlight Parade bisecting Belltown and downtown along Fourth Avenue. This year’s grand marshal is smaller-than-he-used-to-be TV personality and Sounders FC spokesmodel Drew Carey. (The organizers tried to get someone else for the role, but they bid over the actual retail price.)
Jul 29th, 2009 by Clark Humphrey

…the Seafair Torchlight Parade drew thousands from the whole tri-county region to Fourth Avenue on July 25, to witness the usual sequence of drill teams, marching bands, floats, horses, big balloons, clowns, and politicians. This year’s grand marshalls were ex-Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren and local radio legend Pat O’Day.

KIRO-TV’s parade telecast ended promptly at 10 p.m., so the station could air a rerun of one of CBS’s near-identical detective shows. The telecast ended before the Seafair Pirates came into camera range, which is exactly like cutting off the Thanksgiving Day Parade before Santa shows up.

Now, the station has posted video of the Pirates’ performance online, perhaps as a make-up offering to angry parade-telecast viewers.

Aug 3rd, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

…Seafair parade, here’s an official Seafair Pirates eye patch. It’s sponsored by AT&T Wireless, made of space-age rubberized plastic, and made in China.

Apr 22nd, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

…ask why I still prefer the Seafair hydroplane races better than the Navy Blue Angels’ intermission show the same day. Here’s one reason: While one or two hydro drivers have been tragically lost performing their jobs, none have crashed into houses and mobile homes.

Aug 7th, 2005 by Clark Humphrey

…for that glorious only-in-Seattle institution, the hydroplane races. (Other cities host the boats, but no other city loves ’em as much.)

As I’d predicted for several years now, the Miss Budweiser team’s dissolution has meant a far more level playing field for the other boats. Of the eleven official entrants, at least six had a reasonable chance of winning the whole thang. It’s so good to see a sport “dominated” by such sponsors as Llumar Window Film, Lakeridge Paving, and E-Lam Plus (whatever the heck that is).

And kudos to KIRO for airing the whole event in HD, or at least in upconverted widescreen.

Aug 3rd, 2005 by Clark Humphrey

MORE PIX TODAY from the Seafair parade, with the lamer-than-lame theme “Hooray for Hollywood.”

There are innumerable other potential parade themes, even considering the “family” criterion (i.e., nothing too involved with sex, death, violence, bodily functions, sectarian religion, or sectarian politics). Submit your own here.

Aug 2nd, 2005 by Clark Humphrey

…a parade theme than “Horray for Hollywood,” the theme of last week’s Seafair parade in downtown Seattle. If the organizers hope to stem the institution’s long slide into irrelevance, they’d better think of something more exciting than a couple of Darth Vader costumes.

Aug 2nd, 2004 by Clark Humphrey

Specifically, un-themed floats, clowns, and pirates.

I’ve no idea what this critter is, except that it belongs to the Group Health Credit Union.

Aug 1st, 2004 by Clark Humphrey

TODAY AND TOMORROW, some pix from Saturday’s Seafair Torchlight Parade, just for the fun of it. (We’ll write about the Democratic Convention sometime within the coming week. Promise.)

The theme this year was “Fifty Years of Rock n’ Roll.” Most entrants interpreted it as an excuse for Elvish fetishism and Fabulous Fifties fetishism.

A local Hare Krishna congregation created a float based on Yellow Submarine, perhaps the first rock n’ roll movie to be partly influenced by Eastern culture, albeit in a corporate, watered-down way. But then again, rock n’ roll itself was originally a corporate, watered-down corruption of black R&B.

The Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center offered the best interpretation of the theme—a preview of its forthcoming mixed-race production of Grease, that venerable musical depicting the ’70s version of ’50s nostalgia.

As you may have read, 1954 wasn’t just the year of Presley’s first recording. It was also the year of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, which broke previous legal excuses for segregated public schools. As John Waters explored in Hairspray, racial and other suppressions were integral to the story of that not-really-so-quiet decade. The freakish unreality of ’50s nostalgia culture, as evinced in Grease (one of Waters’s favorite films), re-interpreted this revolutionary era as A Simpler Time. A more multicolored Grease would be an alternate-universe fantasy, in which a wider swath of America’s youth would’ve had the opportunity to wear the silly clothes, sing the silly songs, and live the fluffy little romances.

Think of it as a healing image.

Speaking of inclusion, longtime local Latino political activist Roberto Maestas was picked to be Seafair’s honorary “King Neptune Rex” this year. He’s accompanied by Jeanine Nordstrom, who, like most female members of that family that got rich selling clothes to women, doesn’t get to do much at the company.

Jul 29th, 2003 by Clark Humphrey

JUST BECAUSE I CAN, I’m slipping y’all some more pix from last Saturday’s Seafair Torchlight Parade; starting with these proud finishers of the preliminary “fun run.” (Someone, somewhere, must have defined the differences between running for “fun” and organized masochism. If you know where such a written differentiation exists, please tell me.)

Yeah, there were a couple of serious rowdy incidents among the 300,000 spectators, leading to three non-fatal injuries. But you won’t see the municipal bureaucracy trying to ban the whole event, like they did to the Pioneer Square Mardi Gras. Seafair’s too entrenched. And that’s good.

We need something at the heart of Seattle’s civic life that reminds us of the town’s rougher, louder, scruffier past; of the days before every damn thing in town had to be world-fucking-class.

That’s what Seafair is, and that’s why I like it.

Jul 27th, 2003 by Clark Humphrey

FOR THE UMPTEENTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR, this corner continues to refuse to hate the Seafair parade. Sorry, all ye conformist non-conformists out there; but I happen to like big crowds sharing in the celebration of the simple act of being alive on a late summer night.

This giant balloon represents an energy-saving home fluorescent bulb.

Aug 5th, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

Yes, longtime MISC. readers, it’s time for our annual defense of Seafair, the set of local summer rituals poshed at all these years by would-be tastemakers of both the “world class” and bohemian varieties.

Seafair is, above all, a reminder of where this city and region have been. It’s a glorious, unpretentious, homespun celebration of traditional Wash.-state values–hokum contrasted with mannerism, “wholesome” emotional repression (and its noisy release valves), and an engineering-nerd aesthetic.

We’ll discuss the latter trait a little later on. But first, the Torchlight Parade.

It’s admittedly a perennial also-ran compared to Portland’s Rose Parade. It’s smaller, it’s rowdier (partly due to its sunset timing), and has less support from local high society. But it’s ours, dammit.

The drill teams, the beauty queens, the less-than-zany clowns, the not-as-naughty-as-they-used-to-be Seafair Pirates–they’re examples of folk culture from a specific place, dating from a specific time (the early ’50s) when enough people here believed in making up their own shit, not in desperately trying to be sophisticated.

The Seafair organization (formerly Greater Seattle Inc.) also incorporates a score of neighborhood parades, kiddie festivals, and other assorted events around King County.

But the big stuff consists of three pieces: The aforementioned parade, the “scholarship pageant for young women” (also a pale cousin of the Rose Festival’s pageant), and something neither Portland nor most of the rest of North America has.

I speak, of course, of the hydros.

Yes, I still like the hydros after all these years, despite all the hipster flack I’ve taken for it.

Yes, they’re loud. Yes, they’re testosteronic. Yes, they’re not seen in, or approved by, NY/LA/SF.

But those are some of the reasons why I love them.

They’re also a pleasant childhood memory for many NW natives.

But more than that, they combine no less than six of our region’s innate qualities in a single spectacle:

Our love of the water and nature, and our traditional wish to express this love by leaving our mark of conquest upon them.

Our engineering-nerd aesthetic, represented here by the obsessive attention paid to the boats’ custom designs and engine systems.

Our love of clean lines and “clean” living, evinced by the boats’ aerodynamic beauty and the insistant proclaimations that this is a “family” event.

Our historic dichotomy between the squeaky-clean and the down-and-dirty, as shown in the giant floating drunken orgy of yachters that is the Log Boom.

Our manic-depressive nature, shown by monster machines that either go 260 m.p.h. or lie dead in the water.

Our combo of ambition and envy, symbolized by all the underfunded crews trying every year to beat the Budweiser.

Anyhow, this year’s race was one of the best in years.

Thirteen boats were entered. Each of them finished at least two heats, and there were no “Did Not Starts.” There were no serious crashes. There was real competition throughout the day. And the winner-take-all final heat was a battle two of the little-guy teams; the Bud only made second place on a penalty.

Last year, we worried whether the hydroplane racing circuit had a future after Bud boat owner Bernie Little and partners sbought up the whole organization (renamed HydroPROP). Instead, the new bosses installed new rules to relieve the Bud’s dynasty status and make it a race again. The rules worked.

Perhaps this could be a lesson and inspiration to those trying to lessen a certain other Lake Washington dynasty’s power.

Jun 27th, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

Mark Sidran is rapidly emerging as the favorite Seattle mayoral candidate among certain people who don’t live in Seattle.

Specifically, among certain Eastside and Vashon Island business moguls who seek to spread the Word According to Limbaugh, in which the role of government is (1) to further accelarate the concentration of wealth and power in the corporate elite, and (2) to subject the rest of the populace to draconian, even militaristic social controls.

Directly, Sidran’s “get-tuff” platform wouldn’t immediately benefit the bosses of Paccar and Food Services of America (who are among Sidran’s biggest financial benefactors). But indirectly, a hard-right administration running America’s third or fourth most supposedly-liberal town would be a boon to the promoters of a rigidly caste-stratified society (no matter how much they publicly emote about “empowerment” and entrepreneurism).

And, of course, the mandatory-mellowness and demographic-cleansing tactics Sidran’s pursued as City Attorney have benefitted many condo developers, real-estate speculators, and “market-price” restaurateurs these past eight years.

But the question remains: Sidran’s proven adept at raising big bucks from out-of-town (and out-of-state) Right ideologues (to the point of violating the individual-donation limits he’s supposed to be enforcing), but can he translate that loot into real votes from real in-town voters?

I suspect not. He’s done such a successful job of pissing off so many resident Seattle individuals, groups, and influence bases, the election’s already turned into a strategy issue: Not merely to prevent Sidran’s election but how to prevent a Schell-SIdran final race. (Incumbent Paul Schell, we all know, is little more than the gentrification “good cop” to Sidran’s “bad cop.”)

Should we all wholeheartedly back generic respectable-liberal Greg Nickels in the primary? Or would a strong Nickels run merely split the stop-Sidran vote, leaving a stronger Sidran to face a weaker Schell in the final?

Heck if I know.

Aug 3rd, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

ONE OF THIS COLUMN’S TRADITIONS has been the almost-annual defense of Seafair. We’re resuming it this year, as a vehicle for asserting a few points I strongly believe.

1. Corny is just all right with me. And I don’t mean self-conscious, wink-wink-nudge-nudge parody corny either. That’s for people who can’t handle real corny.

2. Everything in Seattle doesn’t have to be World-Fucking-Class. We can have a big parade (albeit not as big or as respected as Portland’s) and a beauty pageant (ditto) and it’s still OK because it’s ours.

3. Working-class people, and their cultural expressions, are not necessarily fascist. Every year I get the same sneers from hipsters who either are unaware of the Seafair parade (you know, the folk who only read the New York fucking Times and only listen to NP fucking R), or consider the parade’s only worthy purpose to be as an excuse to scornfully chortle at square people. (This year, I had an invite to work on a float. The writer of the invite thought I’d be turned on by his description of the parade as “a trip into the heart of darkness of America.”)

To me, the parade’s an important legacy of an older Seattle in which such pretentious elitism was simply not done.

4. Hydroplanes are all-time cool. The roar of the thunderboats, the sunburnt noses on the Miller-drunk dads, the waterborne tailgate parties on the log boom, the pin traders, the way the boats have only two speeds (140 m.p.h. or dead in the water), the sympathies of the underfunded racing teams trying to cobble enough spare parts together to last the day.

The only problem with the race is the same problem it’s had for over a decade: Its monopolization most years by the Budweiser-sponsored Bernie Little crew. The Unlimited Racing Association is afraid to impose any parity rules (of budgets or equipment stock) that would seriously impair the Bud, and has been unable to attract, for more than a one- or two-season stint, other big-bucks sponsors willing to compete against the Bud squad at its budget level.

(Now, management of the whole sport’s been bought out by a partnership of Little and Formula One promoter Don Garbrecht. How, and whether, Little will deal with his own dominance, in order to restore competitiveness to the sport, remains to be seen.)

Ignorance of your culture is not considered cool. Seattle, and America, is a huge and diverse place, much more complicated and chaotic than any oversimplistic hip-vs.-square duality. You have as much to learn (if not more) from people of other cultures in your own town than from the N.Y./Calif. gatekeepers of your own particular subculture.

Go to the parade (and one or more of the auxiliary neighborhood parades) next year. Go to the hydros this year. Observe the families (screeching kids, bored teens, grumpy grownups), the ethnic dance troupes, the bands, the floats, the vendors. Don’t treat them like your inferiors, because they’re not.

Become part of the celebration.

Even come to enjoy it.

You’ll be a better person for it. Really.

TOMORROW: The He-Man Woman Lover’s Club.


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