Apr 16, 2008 - 10:27 PM
Photo by Sam Devine
Remember when Mohamed Ali lit the torch? Even though he was unable to speak and shaking from Parkinson's? I'm pretty sure I saw a tear in Dad's eye that day…
But there was no joy in Mudville last Wednesday and no torch in Justin Herman Plaza when the Olympic torch came to San Francisco. The torch was rerouted. We struck out. The plaza was filled with so much impassioned bickering that, at the end of the day, it seemed that the lack of understanding and wisdom was pitiful, both sides were kind of fucked, and fittingly, though deeply regrettable, no one got to see the torch.
For outspoken SF this was another chance to stump, and every would-be preacher held their own river-camp revival. "PROTECT THE CONSTITUTION!!! THIS IS NOT COMMUNIST CHINA!!!" "THE DALI LLAMA IS A SLAVE OWNER!!!" "FUR IS MURDER!!"
Yup, PETA was there. On top of that, there was even a man doing some kind of performance-art-protesting-against-protesting thing by carrying a yellow and black sign that read, "I can't afford a real sign". One of the Free Tibet protesters then followed him around repeatedly yelling, "THIS MAN IS INSINUATING THAT THE SIGNS ARE NOT FREE!!! ALL THE SIGNS ARE FREE!!!"
So I of course followed him around, yelling out questions like, "All of them? What about the fancy ones?", "Well, do you have to make a donation?", and "Yeah, but what's the catch?"
As far as the Dali Llama slave thing goes, Rolling Stone had an article on Tibet a few months ago, but it didn't say anything about the Llama owning slaves. I asked the person yelling about this and she responded: "You have-a study Chinese history. I'm-a very busy."
And off she went into the crowd, "THE DALI LLAMA IS A …" fading into the din.
Two girls from Oakland came and asked me if I could find Tibet on a map as part of a school project. You know most Americans can't. FYI: it's north of Burma/Myanmar in the Himalayas (I didn't know but I asked a friend that I was with and they did and she said that that counted).
Next I asked a woman about her "China out of Darfur" sign. I hadn't heard anything about this either.
"Yeah, it's better if you google it," she said. "I'm in the middle of an action right now." "I love how you activists are too busy to answer any questions." "I'm in the middle of an action, asshole," she replied. While standing there. Holding a sign. At waist level.
Folks climbed up on the Ferry Building and hung a "Free Tibet" sign and I swear some Chinese supporters tried to knock one climber down, using flagpoles. Nothing like using violence to prove that you don't have human-rights baggage.
At 3:30, sunburned and fed up, I rode the ferry up to Vallejo. From there I took the number 10 bus to Napa to start my vacation and visit friends. A man on the bus asked me if I had seen the torch. He seemed exhausted and angry. We had boarded the ferry in SF at the same time. I couldn't bring myself to ask him the usual prying journalistic questions of name and age and residence (I was on vacation dammitt), but I can tell you this:
1. He shook uncontrollably through the entire journey, took a long time to form words and sentences and pleaded with a deckhand to let board the ferry early because he was sick. Perhaps with Parkinson's…
2. When I got off the bus we had been traveling for two hours together, putting his roundtrip at least four hours.
3. He didn't get to see shit except a bunch of Chinese flags and Free Tibet signs.
Sam Devine is a contributor to Oh Dang! and will eat your children for a nominal fee.