Way to leave things on a depressing note, eh?
Just so this will make a bit of sense, I’ve been in Hawaii. I’ll be posting backward for the next few.
Okay so, of the final playoff round between the Canucks and the Bruins I missed one game of the seven. I happened to be in an airplane, 36,000 feet above earth and watched up to 2nd period before we lost the satellite feed. The first thing the pilot said as he came on the speaker to announce our descent was that he had terrible news regarding the Canucks score: 8 – 1 Bruins. The whole plane felt like it heaved in horror as its passengers were made up of mostly Vancouverites. People looked at each other, some put their hands to their mouths. How the hell can we win the first two games and lose so badly during the third? 1 – 0 Canucks, 3 – 2 Canucks, then 8 – 1 Bruins? 8 – 1 is not 2 – 1. Games 4, 5, and 6 we caught in Hawaii, then, I was home for Game 7.
At the start of Game 7 day I had no idea where I was going to catch the game. I started out with a few options and for about half an hour in the late afternoon one plan was confirmed with Nick to go down town to catch the game on the outdoor screens amidst the fandemonium. This plan was subsequently un-confirmed and I was left sitting on my sofa watching the first period by myself hoping to come to some kind of conclusion soon over what I was going to do. I decided I was going to go down town by myself. By that time time was of the essence and I knew there were people I knew down town so I texted them all in the hopes that they’d somehow be able to feel or hear my calls and texts and give me their coordinates for a meet-up. I left knowing that the chances of me finding someone were slim but I kept telling myself that if the Canucks win the Stanley Cup on that very day then down town Vancouver, the centre of it all, would become something unforgettable to me.
I was still living in Ottawa when the Senators made it to the finals against the Mighty Ducks in 2007. It was the first time the Sens had made it to the finals in 80 years. The last time being in 1927. This was a big deal for Ottawa. The Sens were defeated in Game 5 and much like Vancouver, Ottawa’s down town streets had been completely shut down to traffic for the entire final round. Elgin Street was coined ‘Sens Mile’ and received its “official” street sign.
I was down town for that last game – we all knew that it could very well be the Sens’ last. And, it was. We lost that game and subsequently the Stanley Cup. People cried, some hugged, then the streets cheered regardless, and in solidarity, then eventually emptied out by late night and life carried on without incident.
When the Canucks lost it was the complete opposite and boy, was it ever unforgettable…
I took the SkyTrain to the Stadium stop which was a few blocks away from the Georgia and Hamilton intersection otherwise known as the “Fan Zone.” Facing me as I came down Georgia was the back of a huge screen TV mounted on a bus. The intersection was blocked off with blue fencing so I had to go around it to enter the area where all the fans were smooshed together. Somehow, I managed to squeeze and coil all 5’4″ of me through a deep crowd of hot people. I had no idea where I was going, all I knew was that I wanted to see the screen. I was guilty of rubbing up against people in ways that would have otherwise been extremely inappropriate in a grocery store aisle for example, but I was on a mission without destination. Eventually, I found myself on the steps of the Canada Post building on the northwest side of Georgia, kitty-corner to the CBC building. About eight steps up and I was then on the platform and could see the screen. I was also under a ledge which was nice because the sun was high and hot and being showered with its rays would have been horrible given how much body heat was being given off.
I remember stopping there once I found my spot just to look around. I remember the smell of beer and sweaty body but there was enough of a breeze every so often so it didn’t stagnate too badly. I saw goal two scored by the Bruins, and by goal three I remember the crowd’s energy had noticeably changed. One young man at the bottom of the steps began spit-screaming in the direction of the screen and punching the railing. Plastic bottles started soaring through the air and landing on various heads in the crowd at my feet. I remember texting a couple of my friends right then and there and telling them that I would not be surprised if there was a riot – I could feel it.
Come the 4th, empty-net goal more bottles and other objects were flying around. The crowd was getting restless having to dodge these flying objects. Before I knew it, the young girl beside me yelled “Oh my god they’re flipping that SUV!” I looked over and there was a silver SUV being rocked back and forth by a group of men, it was eventually flipped right onto its side then, right onto its back. I started taking photos and videos around then. It was starting. Admittedly, at that moment, I did question whether or not I should stick around. Part of me wanted to mainly out of honest interest also because I’m a shameless voyeur. I also wanted to see just how crazy these young people were actually going to get; you know, being my first riot and all. I was up off the street too and more or less “sheltered” from what was going on below me so had a good view. Little did I know that eventually I would not be able to leave even if I wanted to and that the activity would become dangerously worse.
The flipped SUV was a ways away from me but still close enough to see the faces of the people jumping on it and screaming like gorillas in the mist. I felt terrible for the owner of the SUV (who, as I later found out on the news, actually instigated the flipping of his own car) but also found the crowd’s subsequent reactions quite interesting and highly peculiar. They were starting to roar in unison. Fists started being pumped into the air as if at front row of a Megadeath concert. People began to climb up onto the under carriage of the SUV (which was now facing the sky) and jumped up and down on it with as much glee as children on a backyard trampoline. The front bumper was stomped off and was then tossed through the air from person-to-person just like a beach volleyball. The crowd roared and heaved. With every new, destructive assault inflicted upon the vehicle, the cheers and roars would elevate in decibels. I remember stopping to think about all this around that time. I had witnessed this crowd go from togetherness and anticipation for a Stanley Cup win, to the start of total anarchy and complete disregard for personal property. Not to mention how fast the destructive crowd grew in numbers. By this point it was easy to differentiate between those who had actually anticipated, if not instigated, the riot as they were donning bandannas over their faces and those who had actually started their day as bonafide fans. They wore Canucks jerseys, and had logo tattoos on their cheeks, aluminum foil-made Stanley Cups, blow horns. But, eventually the aluminum foil Stanley Cups became projectiles and the butts of the blow horns would be used to help smash any glass that was around.
The entire scene unravelled into something that reminded me of Lord of the Flies. This analogy was also adopted in the media and in daily conversation and I think it’s because that’s exactly what it looked like. It was pretty well the only comparison that immediately came to mind. I don’t want to use the words “mob mentality” in this post because I feel like it’s already received its maximum use in any one-week period but it is what is is. I looked around and was pretty sure over three-quarters of those eventually involved in the full-blown riot would have never, in their wildest dreams, imagined themselves in a riot in their lifetime. But, it was hard to ignore the energy and sensory overload that evening once the rioters’ impulsively swelled to hundreds within minutes and the two vehicles in my immediate sight (one being the SUV, the other being some poor man’s utility truck) were shooting flames to the sky. I saw young men taking turns standing in front of the burning vehicles facing the sky with arms up and fists clenched roaring until they had no air left in their lungs. In addition to Lord of the Flies that part reminded me of some sort of satanic worship with the fire and all.
For a while I was pretty well stuck where I was because the ground below was not safe. There were brawls occurring at the bottom of the steps to my side and fiery bedlam on the ground at my feet. So, I stayed up on my perch for about an hour. I watched the cops come in and attempt to control the situation. I saw the fire truck come in to douse the flames of the SUV. Not too soon after this the utility truck would be next. I saw the cops retreat to the very outskirts of the chaos and figured they were planning something. They later returned with shields, batons, and helmets. The S.W.A.T came out in full gear at the same time and were manning the street while a handful of cops covered the Canada Post building and cleaned house. They wanted no one standing on the raised landing where I was “safe” and whacked everybody off into the streets as if we were all dangerous. Luckily I didn’t get hit by a baton but a photographer was nearly pushed down the stairs and one young woman received a hard whack on her forearm – which made her cry. This part reminded me of Children of the Corn only the sickles were batons, and the children were police officers, and the corn stalks were humans. Luckily, they gave me a chance to jump down onto the steps as the last spectator remaining. Eye-contact and a “Don’t hurt me, I’m fragile” smile works well I find.
Noted for the next riot.
I was now on the street in the middle of it all. This part reminded me of an apocalypse. In a very cliché way, all hell had broken loose. The street fighting had been going on for a while so I was passing people with ripped t-shirts and bloody faces. Some guys were bouncing around like orangutans; almost as though they were in Jolly Jumpers but without the apparatus. The cops had formed a solid line right through the Georgia/Hamilton intersection and the smoke from the empty frames of the simmering vehicles billowed behind them. It was quite a scene. The reinforcement cops in the second row were holding cameras and video cameras to the crowd. They stood motionless and straight-faced. One “rioter” actually had the nerve to walk right up to their line, drop his pants, whip out his peen and actually send a hot stream down at their feet. Still, they stood motionless. I tell you, one quick swoop of a baton would have likely taken care of that man’s arrogant anatomy for the rest of his life.
The Canada Post building was under attack now and people were taking turns running at the glass with a karate kick to shatter it. Eventually a pane broke and again the roars surged.
Backyard firework explosions now competed with the sounds of tear gas booms and the air started to tickle my throat. Unfortunately, I did not bring my trusty riot bandanna to filter out the gas and my mucous membranes were being attacked. I was no longer in my safe place and was traipsing the streets among the fury. It had become hard to breathe and the chaos was as upsetting as it was frightening and I had experienced more than enough. The shock of watching a crowd regress into something out of the stone age had dissipated and upset was taking over. By this point, those who remained were ready to take on the cops and the S.W.A.T. They seemed to have lost all dignity and composure and were pretty well feeding off the chaotic energy like fiends. They looked inhuman. Like zombies almost - especially when the sun had nearly set and everything took on this kind of grey, ominous hue and the smoke from the vehicles, fireworks, and tear gas looked that much more mean and growly.
I heard someone suggest hoisting up the fencing and rushing the S.W.A.T… I walked to the SkyTrain station after that.
The rest of the riot I caught from the cozy confines of my living room. I see the rioters had become more ballsy as night time set in. Looting was in full force, police vehicles were being set on fire, someone fell from the viaduct to the ground below, there were injuries. Poor Vancouver, I kept thinking to myself, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. And, why was it happening? Well I figure it was some kind of psychological trigger that happened. I believe that a handful of people went down town that day with the sole purpose of instigating a riot. I don’t believe they were from Vancouver, especially down town. I believe once it began, the feeling perpetuated – just like how reckless driving can perpetuate on the highways. All you need is one asshole driver tailgating and weaving and it takes another driver with a short fuse to get him back by doing the same. Before you know it, three more drivers are all getting each other back. You ask one of them over dinner at a nice restaurant if tailgating on the highway at high speeds is dangerous and they’ll most likely say yes.
Anyway I could theorize for hours gleefully but, I’ll leave the rest of the psychoanalysis up to the pros…