I don’t live in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland even. I decided to make it to town on a whim Wednesday morning and took the afternoon off. It was a beautiful day in Vancouver and I didn’t want to be elsewhere when there could be a chance of being swept in ecstasy and delirium. Last year’s Olympics captured a celebration unlike anything I’ve and, it seems, visitors from around the world experienced. Tens of thousands of people reveling in the glory of sport in a mixture of equal parts boisterous enthusiasm and unabandoned joy. It was so peaceful and serene. Every game of the playoffs recreated that feeling. Even the last one.
Up until puck drop, the same nervous energy, the same palpable tension and the same unrestrained hope marked the 100,000-strong crowd. My only inkling that something was amiss and different this time around came during my route to Vancouver. Fellow passengers were already drunk past the point of no return, extremely loud and of the douchebag-variety. Still once in Vancouver, everything felt alright. I got off the skytrains at Georgia and Granville and walked to the West End to watch the game at a friend’s apartment.
60 minutes of hockey later, me and my sister had to walk back to the skytrain. As we walked back, people were either dazed, numb or still high-fiving each other with “Next Year!” chants. They seemed to be taking it as well as one could have hoped. My sister made a remark on the relative calmness of Canucks fans in the wake of disaster.
Then I looked up into the sky and first saw plumes of smoke. At this point, we were still far away from the Granville street epicenter.
Zuuko: “You were saying? I think we’re going into the belly of the beast.”
When we reached Granville, it seemed a little dirtier than usual, but no more than other times that the City has celebrated on its main boulevard. I saw shirtless guys acting obnoxiously, booze-fuelled rage and thousands of cameras incessantly clicking, egging them on. I heard a tremendous explosion. A fight broke out in front of me. I temporarily lost sight of my sister. I searched frantically in the crowd until she called my name. She would later describe my face as priceless and one that matched the father’s face from the movie “Bombay” when he lost his twin sons in the crowd.
One look at the faces in the crowd and the madness in the eyes completely convinced me that we needed to get out of Dodge and now. People’s faces were not sad or disappointed, but happy which was unusual given the crushing loss. The happiness, instead of radiating out cheerfulness and beauty, made their faces grotesque and ugly. One look at their faces, then a fight breaks out and I’m searching for my lost sister in a crowd of zombies. Yeah no shit my face looked priceless.
It was only a half hour after the game and the full brunt of the riots hadn’t even started yet as we made our way to the skytrains and out of the city.
They would last another 3 hours or so before the police were able to disperse them. I watched the footage until midnight. The crowd that was there after 9pm looked to be about 5,000 strong maximum, out of the original 100k that were there.
I wasn’t that mad about the game, but I was mad about this. Vancouver wouldn’t be the same again. Property owners and business men will not let the City “repeat mistakes.” I was worried that some of my investments would be damaged. I would be surprised if there wasn’t lawsuits (that’s why I know the City will not be so quick to allow mass celebrations again). It will be a long time before the Olympic-like shared experiences of joy are recreated in this City. The lawyers will see to that.
Everyone on TV was using the words mob mentality. Is that what that was? What led to it? A combination of many factors but I’ll list a couple.
For one, the entire city had Canucks fever. Two, the City had hung on for an entire 2-month period where everyone lived and died with every Canuck victory or loss. Three, the drama this particular Canucks team elicited from the ways it both won or lost was nothing less than nerve-racking. Three, the last series was extremely nasty with the more brutal elements of the game dominating the talent and finesse elements of the game (see this). Fourth, the Canucks losing the series for (take your pick) bi-polar play (Hello, Luongo), running out of gas, health, no second line, two defensive defensemen missing or the complete inability of refs or the NHL to protect its players. Fifth, Vancouver has never won the Cup.
A combination of these factors (and a few others I’m sure) created conditions where everyone was over-invested emotionally in the outcome. All they needed was a spark to turn this into an ugly situation. The rioters for the most part seemed to be delerious and unable to control emotions that spilled out into all that ugliness on the street. The above picture may be the Picture of the Year. Is there a better picture out there that captures the feeling, intensity and sheer “WTF?”-ness of a particular situation? As I was standing and searching for my sister, the feeling washing over me was pure, basic animal panic.
A lot of people think that the riots started because (i) Canucks fans are douches, (ii) Vancouver’s real estate is overpriced, leaving all these young people angry, (iii) riots are fun; so hey when the chance pops up, why not, (iv) Harper got a majority, (v) there was not enough police, (vi) Obama is the President, (vii) sun rise, sun sets, and/or (viii) a combination of the above.
Riots start when large groups of people get together for a reason; the reason being an emotional, cultural or religious focal point. This is the tinder. When the outcome is not in favor (or sometimes even when it is in favor), then all it takes is one jackass to throw a pop can. The second sees it, and hucks his beer can. A third starts yelling obscenities in the presence of women and children. A fourth starts lighting fire crackers. And, that is the match.
See the video below to see a demonstration of this phenomenon.