Pete Schwartz lives in Downington, Pennsylvania. He works for IKON Office Solutions. This interview was conducted via gmail chat at 2:00 EST on June 10.
Nicholas Rombes: I’ve got a screen open to Wikipedia. Most interviews are really directed, and I’d like to introduce an element of randomness. So, could you click on “Random Article” at Wikipedia and then tell me where it takes you. Then I’ll go there too.
Pete Schwartz: Sure, okay. [Pause] I’m at the page for the Sopot International Song Festival, which is one of the biggest Polish music festivals.
Rombes: Give me a second. I’m there. Have you ever heard of this before?
Schwartz: I have not but my life is now much richer for the knowing. Unsurprisingly the Polish entry into the festival has won more times than any other nation’s entry. A bit of a home field advantage I suppose.
Rombes: It sort of looks pretty lame–they say “its popularity declined further during the 1990s.” Maybe the festival just wasn’t that good.
Schwartz: I think there was also a TV contract issue in the 1990s that slowed them up. In fact, no contest was held at all from 1999-2004 which left Lord only knows how many excellent Polish songwriters out in the cold. They have had some star performers there though: Whitney Houston, Elton John. I’m not clear if they enter their songs in the contest or if they just perform or just show up to provide publicity and a reason to tune in.
Rombes: Could you hit the random article button again and let me know where it takes you?
Schwartz: I’m a bit reluctant as I find this festival fascinating. Okay, here is something I know about. Hockey. I’ve landed at the page for the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL.
Rombes: Give me a second to get there. [Pause] What do you think about their logo? It looks like something from Betty Crocker.
Schwartz: It is pretty horrible. I’m not sure what an actual “thrasher” looks like but if this is even a slight resemblance then I am terrified. It’s a rabid bird! And it has a weapon!
Rombes: It reminds me of a mixing bowl. It doesn’t inspire fear.
Schwartz: Isn’t it terrific that their first ever draft pick has been called “the worst first overall pick of all-time” by no less an authority than the National Hockey League itself! Poor Patrick Stefan. At least he has an interesting name. He sounds like a European model. His last name is pronounced “Steph-on” I believe.
Rombes: The whole article makes the team sound lame. Let’s do another one.
Schwartz: I don’t have much affiliation with this team. I used to go to Atlanta all the time for work and had a chance to go to a couple of their games but the locals always advised me to go Underground Atlanta or the Coke bottling factory tour instead. [Pause] Wikipedia is spitting out some interesting ones today. I’m at the page for the surname “Sibirsky.”
Rombes: What the hell? What is this?
Schwartz: The last recorded member of the Sibirsky family died in 1879. Really? How is that possible? Literally there are no more Sibirsky’s?
Rombes: Oh, I’m on a different page, a region of Siberia. Wait… did you click on the family name?
Schwartz: It just took me there, yes.
Rombes: I’ll go there now.
Rombes: What’s going on with Sibirsky? I don’t understand the meaning of the page.
Schwartz: I think this “fact” in Wikipedia is wrong. I just found a web page for a Charles Sibirsky who plays a mean piano. It’s an old Russian family.
Rombes: This page is really terrible and not helpful. Would you mind doing one more?
Schwartz: It descended from the last of the Siberian Khans which, bluntly, is pretty low-ranking on the royalty scale if you ask me.
Rombes: No doubt.
Schwartz: No worries. Here we go. A quaint little village in merry old England. “Richard’s Castle.”
This is why they should permanently disable the “random article” feature.
Rombes: Give me a second.
Schwartz: When people hit that they are really thinking “I want to go see a random article about something that is of no interest to me.” I don’t think you truly understand what “random” really means until you go through this exercise. It’s a great life lesson. The place was founded by Richard Fitz Scrob (alternately Fitz Scrope). I see why they named it after his first name.
Scrobville or Scropeton sounds horrible.
Rombes: Richard Fitz Scrob certainly doesn’t sound like the name of a knight to me.
Schwartz: If you could pick an alternate last name from “Scrob” why in the world would it be “Scrope”? It should have been like Van Damme or something.
Rombes: Sounds like the castle is sort of hard to get to.
Schwartz: Fortunately Scrob was wise enough to pass the land on to his brother-in-law, Hugh de Say so as to prevent his last name from further blemishing the land. Yeah, not much of a castle anymore. Mostly just “earthworks” which in tourist terms means “boring.”