The Glidden Auto Tour was coming through town this week, I learned, “the largest premier antique automobile touring event in the world,” according to the press release which I forwarded to the principal of the local school, a friend of mine. He wasn’t sure what to do with it, exactly. Given the pressure of standardized tests and obligatory instruction, there was not much room for any unprescribed activities. “We’ve even had to cut out one recess and scale back on Art and Music,” he told me. What harm could it do, I asked, to go outside for half an hour and watch a motorcade of antique cars go by, right in front of the school? He said he’d think about it.
When the day came, I went out to see what was happening. The cars were due to pass through town, at 10 a.m. The weather was lovely. At the bookstore near my office I sipped on a cup of coffee, checked my phone, looked at a magazine, waited, and then becoming impatient, walked back to my office. Perhaps I had the day wrong? But then it occurred to me that the old cars were probably just running behind schedule, so I decided to give it one more try. I hopped into my Honda for an early lunch and took a back-road downtown.
When I got there, near the elementary school, sure enough, there they all were, car after classic car coming up the street–Model T’s, Packards, Model A’s, you name it, all in perfect condition, coming up the main street. And there sitting on the curb in the front of the school were the schoolkids with their teachers behind them. I parked and crossed the street to join them.
As each auto come up, the children would cheer, and the drivers would sound their horns in response. Some of the teachers were taking pictures of the cars, and some of the drivers were taking pictures of the kids. “Look, that car has a GPS,” someone pointed out, and we all laughed at the incongruity. One teacher was explaining to her young charges that this was what cars used to look like. What differences could they see between these and modern cars?
My friend, the principal, walked over. “I’m almost choking up,” he said. “Look at all of this. The kids, the teachers, everybody’s happy. I almost didn’t do this, but I looked out the window at this beautiful day, and just decided everybody should go outside.” He stopped and looked around. At one point, the fifth graders tried to start the wave, but by the time it got to the third graders, it petered out. Teachers were trying to explain to them what the wave was but they were too excited to listen.
“Pretty soon,” he continued, “we’ll have to go back in. Back to the mandatory curriculum. Back to teaching to the test.” We watched a red Bentley putter on by, in all its antique charm. “School used to be like this, full of spontaneous moments.” A few more minutes passed, and a few more vintage cars. “Things are different now.”
The old-fashioned parade began to subside, as did the beeps and cheers. “Well, I guess it’s all over,” the principal said. One more Model A passed by, but in silence. By that time, the teachers had gotten the children up from the curb and led them, single-file, back into the school.