Monday, June 20, 2011

Wicked Riots!

I've been wanting to write something about the riots in Vancouver.  But I didn't know how to approach it - berate the idiots who did it, tell them to grow up - if they couldn't act responsibly, the didn't deserve a team - applaud the people who came out to clean up - comment on how I'd been to that Chapters store the last time I was in Vancouver and it made it so much more real to me ...
I just couldn't find the angle I wanted on it.  And then the urgency passed and I decided not to write about it at all ... Until my sister sent me the following e-mail, and I thought it was such a great example of how these stupid acts by this group of idiots affected some lives in ways I didn't even consider.  So, with my sister's permission, I share her story in her words:
Hi there,

So - guess which night Pat (my 78-year-old friend) and I went to see "Wicked" at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre - you know, the big theatre in the downtown core?...

Here's a clue:

We're fine, but we didn't get home until late.

At intermission everyone was told NOT to go outside due to what was happening outside. (Huh? We'd been watching a "GREAT show "(Heather) "Not that great of a show" (Pat)). At intermission, I went to the upper lobby and got to see a lot of black smoke, heard a couple of explosions - followed by a lot more black smoke - and saw city workers trying to initiate a clean-up. There were groups of young people around, some clearly hammered, many just walking up to others, forming a group, then breaking up and leaving. I called Bruce and was trying to find out what he had heard on the news when a big explosion went off nearby, and the phone started to cut in and out. Apparently the police had forced the worst of the rioters into smaller and smaller areas, and they were already away from Georgia and Howe. The explosions were one block further down Georgia. Basically, a chunk of the rioters had moved from one side of the street in front of the theatre to the other.

Fortunately, Pat had gone to the loo and had missed the "intermission show." We were then told to return to our seats, and the show went on.

At the end of the show, after a HUGE standing ovation (very much deserved in my opinion), an announcement informed us that the Vancouver Police had told the theatre to keep the audience members in their seats. A few of us asked to go to the washroom, but were told that no one was to leave the house. Period. In other words: no potty. So we waited about 10 more minutes, and then were allowed to go to the loo, but told to stay in the theatre building, and not go near the windows. I've never seen so many cell phones all working at once... Including mine.

We waited until about 11:30, when the crowd was told that certain streets would be open to vehicles leaving the downtown area. No one could enter, the buses had been shut down, and taxis weren't available. Guess who went in a taxi because we didn't know if we'd be able to find parking for the show, since the parking under the Queen E. is open to more than just theatre patrons. So we waited. One theatre employee stayed on the phone trying to get through to a taxi company. It took a long time, but she did get Vancouver taxi to agree to try and get twenty cabs for patrons to share. Only one showed up, and it took a group right away. There was an elderly man on oxygen, who was running out of oxygen (this was after midnight), who needed a cab most of all. A city worker came in and said he could take some people in a truck, and he took a group who had kids - the group that had waited out in the cold (although advised not to) to grab the first cab and who grabbed the truck right away so that the old man on oxygen had to wait. To me, that was as despicable as what the rioters were doing. However, in times like this, the best in people often rises to the surface, and we got to sit and chat with a few people who were nice, all understanding that it was just a waiting game, no panicking, etc.

When one theatre employee saw that I was having trouble standing (exhaustion + fibro = an owey), she opened a couple of doors so that Pat and I could sit, but still keep an eye on whether a cab showed up for us or not. In the end, another employee, Angela, said she could give us a lift to my place and also drop another gentleman, Conrad from Utah, off at his Broadway & (near) Cambie hotel. The Cambie bridge was the only one open, and only for leaving the downtown, but that meant we could get out. Things were much quieter by then, at about 12:20, but there were still a lot of groups of drunk young people wandering about, as well as evidence of destruction. We had to walk 4 or 5 blocks to get to her car. A few groups of young people walked past us, or stood around talking with each other. One group of guys walked single file past us, the last one saying "hi" as he went past. Conrad wondered if that kid was drunk, and I assured him that was the case, since the smell of young man mixed with the smell of beer is rather distinct. The rest of the people mostly ignored us, some stared or eyed us, but no one gave us any grief. Angela had wanted the company on the way to her car, but I believe she would have gone alone if no one else had needed a ride.

Angela told us that the theatre has a capacity of 2,600 people. It was pretty much full when we were there. She said everything had been surreal, knowing that so many people were watching a show, while she was watching a riot and not know what would happen. Her job like those of the other employees there, is mainly administering first aid and ensuring safety, crowd control, etc., not showing people to their seats. In that way, she's more like an airline attendant than a house manager. They were all wonderful, keeping people calm, dealing with a couple of people who had panic attacks, and one young woman who had an anaphylactic reaction to the minute amount of pepper spray that had seeped in around the doors. Apparently they went through a lot of the oxygen they keep on hand. When the show was over, and we were allowed into the lobby again, they put out jugs of water and plastic cups, made sure no one came into the theatre who shouldn't, and basically did everything possible for those of us left behind and for each other. They were mostly women who were around my age, a couple were older and one was younger. They sure knew what they were doing.

Angela got us back to my place at about 1:10am, and then Bruce came with me when I took Pat home. Pat lives about 15-20 minutes from here, in Kerrisdale.

I loved the show... And I love how people really do come together to help each other when things are uncertain and we're all stuck in it together. A very few people are selfish, but most just do what they can, stay patient and pleasant and caring. In the end, what else is there to do? Despite the disgrace outside, I find my faith in people somewhat renewed.

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