I’d heard it was a possibility but I didn’t think it would really happen. I watched the final game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs surrounded by formerly online, now real-life fellow travel blogger friends at the Railway Club in Vancouver, the first stop on my North American road trip. A smaller group of us, Jeannie, Dylan, Mark and I left before the game ended to get a bite to eat at one of Jeannie’s (a local) favorite places. I remember asking as we veered toward what appeared a quieter part of town if we were going away from where the action was likely to be. I wanted to be in the midst of it, naively thinking it would resemble the street party I’d experienced when I first landed in Vancouver after game 6. Of course the outcome then had been different, but at most I thought the vibe would be a bit more somber.
We finished a great dinner, walked back into the quiet street, and in what seemed like one turn of a corner everything changed. Black smoke in the sky led to smashed windows, two overturned cars, riot police, an anxious yet curious crowd, fire engines, tear gas, and relatively controlled (at that time) chaos.
I wasn’t scared. Blame it on the fact that I lived in Los Angeles during the riots, that until last Wednesday I spent much of the last decade living in Oakland during riots, and more recently in a neighborhood where I heard gun fire from my house occasionally…too occasionally. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m a filmmaker- it felt surreal, like I was watching a film. Even as the first wave of tear gas caught in my throat and felt like someone took sandpaper to it, I just looked on with intense curiosity. I’m sure it would have been different had we been there just a few moments earlier.
My fellow travel blogging friends and I were in various states of concern and determination to get home. Jeannie and I learned that buses and cabs were no longer running, hitched a ride across the Burrard Bridge to the Chinook which was safely parked in the Kitsilano neighborhood, and I drove her home without a problem.
Every place has incidents. And my love for places- especially my beloved Oakland, where there are frequent incidents- has made me less likely to judge a place by them. I think about my perception of Vancouver before the riot started- how incredibly beautiful it is, its focus on local products and environmentally sound practices, its friendly people, how even the bus drivers are exceedingly nice- serving as ambassadors to their city. And I think about all of the times I’ve told someone I live in Oakland and had to defend my choice to live there by explaining how amazing a place it truly is in spite of the problems caused by a handful of residents.
Waking up the next day to find that a massive volunteer group had cleaned up the city and left messages of remorse over the rioting, including leaving notes of appreciation for their local police department on a police car, only confirmed my opinion of Vancouver- that it’s a fantastic place best seen through a prism like that, rather than judged by a riot.
For a beautifully written local’s perspective on the riot, please read Jeannie’s post here. Have you witnessed something like this while traveling? At home? How did it shape your opinion of the place?