"Dude, what is up with your fans?!?"
That was from a friend in Boston, the first email in my inbox after I go back home from the Vancouver Stanley Cup riot.
Here was the second email, from another friend a few thousand kilometers away, watching Lotusland burn on live on TV.
"In Arab nations we see images of violent riots by angry citizens demanding democracy.... in Vancouver we see violent riots by angry fans demanding ?????"
Let's face it Vancouver, we look silly.
The good citizens of Vancouver keep telling themselves it's not so -- it was just a few hooligans, a cabal of crazy anarchists that turned downtown Vancouver into a scene from Clockwork Orange Wednesday night. Unasked, thousands of them showed up the day after with good will and brooms, joining city workers in cleaning up the ash, glass and other detritus of our riot.
But that won't get much airtime on Fox, CNN, the BBC, RAI or any of the other networks that covered our Stanley Cup imbroglio. When Rome burns, no matter how small the fire, that's where the camera's gaze always goes. And in a space of few hours, Vancouver's glorious Olympic afterglow was snuffed out.
Before Game 7 of the Vancouver Canucks vs. the Boston Bruins, we were remembered as a great, mid-size city that in 2010 hosted the best Olympic Games ever. We also held the best ever hockey game ever played at an Olympics, taking home the gold from the Americans. We were the new, confident face of Canada.
Now TV screens around the world -- and these images really are being shown everywhere -- are re-casting Vancouver as a city that has a weird predilection for rioting when it loses hockey games, which we did spectacularly in Game Seven against the Boston Bruins.
Our one bad night, when we had to seal off Battleground Vancouver by closing all the bridges into the downtown, has done serious damage to the image we spent billions of dollars buffing when we held the Olympics.
The Vancouver Sun zeroed in on this damage. Bob Whitelaw, the man who analyzed the first Stanley Cup riot in 1994, when the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers, told the paper the property damage might be $1 million from Wednesday night's riot. But the image damage will take $1 billion to repair.
"That's not just going to take months to heal, that's going to take another five years plus to recover," Whitelaw told the Sun, adding he's not buying into blaming hooligans and anarchists for the riot. "They talk about hooligans, but hooligans generally cover their faces with balaclavas or the like... but some of these people were wide open about letting their faces be seen on camera."
Vancouver's image will eventually recover, of course.
International TV will soon move onto other scenes of burning cars, riot squads and crowds lighting their city in flames. Riots -- far bigger ones -- can be picked from today's turbulent world, where young people are legitimately fighting for human rights, food, democracy or maybe an end to their local tyrant.
Vancouver's riot won't be remembered with such gravitas. Our rioters [or should we just call them sore losers] chose to immolate Vancouver's international image over a game, to get pictures for their Facebook pages, maybe break into the Bay for some free underwear or storm the drug store to get chocolate bars, toothpaste or a new computer.
As riots go, it really was a sad, laughable and small-minded affair. Yup, Vancouver looks silly. World-class silly.