In 1994, when Vancouver was up against the New York Rangers in the final round of the Stanley Cup, I was a tender young 25 year old. Newly single, having been dumped by a boyfriend I thought I would marry, looking for solace and a regular stream of company to take my mind off my disintegrated life, I fell deep into a younger group of friends.
It was someone's stupid idea to watch the game at an apartment at the bottom of Robson Street. It was someone else's stupid idea to make our way up Robson and through the West End before heading home to Kitsilano. My friend and I each took a bottle of beer and proceeded up the big hill toward Burrard. Most people were celebrating but there were some boneheads out there. As we got close to the intersection of Robson and Burrard the crowds got thicker and the mood turned uglier.
A short, overweight, middle-aged police officer approached me and told me he would have to confiscate my beer bottle because I could "use it as a projectile". Already quite put off by the raucous mood of the crowd, I immediately engaged him in debate, "You mean you want my beer because its illegal to drink out here, right??"
Drinking in public is not allowed in Canada except in Quebec. For special occasions like Canada Day there might be a roped-off area for drinkers but usually we Canadians are very good at disguising our liquor to look like harmless soda. People buy stickers and metal wrappers at discount stores, "Cake", and "Pipsi" are two popular ones.
Beerless and generally unimpressed with the crowd we kept walking along Robson. A young fellow traversing the bus trolley wires above the intersection elicited both encouragement and hoots of derision. Other boys were climbing the streetlights and whatever else they could find. Later we found out that a second boy tried to highwire on the trolley cable but fell to the pavement. The ambulance had a really hard time getting through the uncooperative crowd and he ended up being quite hurt.
At this point my STUPID friend decided she was hungry and wanted a hamburger. I wasn't even really interested in sticking around that zone and tried to dissuade her but at that age friends stick together no matter how ridiculous the situation so I went along.
In the 15 minutes, or less, it took her to get her greasy fast-food burger from an outlet a few blocks away, the police had climbed up on the roofs of Robson and were issuing a dispersal warning. "Go home, in 10 minutes we're releasing the tear gas."
Unaware of the escalating situation, we headed back up to Robson, on Howe St. The cars were at a standstill and we high-fived passengers and drivers through their open windows the whole way up. That was awesome. We got to Robson and turned in the intersection toward Burrard.
A couple of things were different. As I focussed on computing the situation my friend went back into celebration mode. The first thing I noticed was that the crowd was all boys. And the mood was completely different. We strolled along slowly only for a minute or two when suddenly all the people in front of us turned around, were now facing us, and their eyes were wide open X1000.
My friend and I stopped short. What . . . what the hell??
The crowd started moving toward us quickly, my friend spun around to also start running but I grabbed her.
Keta does not flock, or herd.
"To the side!" I yelled in her ear and dragged her to the sidewalk. We stood up against the wall like runaways caught in headlights. The sidewalk was packed with other confused bystanders, and not a few store owners out specifically to protect the windows of their individual shops.
Before our eyes the entire street cleared. A wafting puff of smoke followed. You can't get away from that stuff. Wrapping your T-shirt around your face does not stop the tear gas from getting into your throat, your eyes, stinging, burning, making your eyes water and you can't talk properly.
Then, as my friend and I realized we must have missed something important while she was stuffing her face with greasy fast food, the crowd came back. And they were mad. And they had no shirts on suddenly. Why do boys take off their shirts when they are about to commit mayhem?? So weird.
As my friend and I were trying to stuff our shirt sleeves into our faces and were discussing in which direction to best make our escape, the crowd marched back up Robson toward Burrard as one.
"Let's go SHOPpin'!" I heard one shout.
A boy came up beside me to kick the store window, trying to find the fireman's corner. The owner shouted and pushed him away roughly, "Oh no you don't!"
The kid just shrugged and moved to the next window. My friend and I sidled down Robson away from Burrard as best we could given the now total mayhem that was ensuing. Half-way down the block there's a wee space between the buildings, we dashed down it and into the lane. Remarkably the air here was completely clear. We allowed our tearing eyes to wash the gas out.
As we walked down the lane asking each other "what just happened there??" we could see evidence of hundreds, if not thousands, of people having taken that same escape route before use. Everything was trampled but now the back alley was eerily quiet.
I stopped as I realized we were heading toward Burrard. A bit further along was a gap between the buildings which normally had an 11 foot fence between, anchored to the buildings. This chain-link fence was absolutely flattened. Glad to avoid the violent intersection my friend and I stepped onto the fence toward Haro. We were remarking to each other how completely the fence was brought down, surely by the force of hundreds of bodies moving quickly.
Just then the building manager came out to have a look, said something nondescript to us then saw the fence and shouted, "Look what you did to my fence!"
I sighed, about to launch into a big explanation of what had just gone down when my friend, who until then proved herself remarkably slow to respond to the quickly-changing situation, spun around, pointed to herself and me and shouted back,
"Yeah. Me and HER did that!" and scoffed.
We walked away to the sounds of the building manager ranting about her fence, the crushed plants and flower, and 'stupid kids'.
Last night the mayhem was even worse. We're talking a whole new generation now. The looting and anarchy was the same, but last time there were no fires set. And the sheer ignorance . . . people jumping up and down on top of a burning car?? hello?! Seriously lacking in brain cells.
This morning large numbers of regular Vancouver citizens are downtown helping with the cleanup, prompted by a viral campaign started on Facebook. Police and media last night already issued requests for any photo and video evidence of people vandalizing. In 1994 the police had great success capturing almost all the perpetrators through the summer using only media images and security cams. Now there is way more footage available.
The police will patrol the Skytrain over this summer armed with photos of the hooligans. As the months pass they will get a large proportion of them.