The film Saving Private Ryan, set in World War II Europe, opened with a scene depicting U.S. soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy, France under an onslaught of enemy fire. Troops were cut in two within seconds of landing, Arms, legs, and heads were blown off. Hundreds lost their lives in a mangle of blood, gore, guts, and destruction.
To the laid-back people of Seattle, Washington, that’s what the massive police response to the protests of the WTO late last November seemed like.
Arospace is a nightclub located on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, which is an area of the city about two miles east of downtown. Known for it’s counter-culture atmosphere, it’s a popular haven for the city’s teen and twenty-somethings who are there for drugs, sex, and comradery. It’s also known for its large population of homosexuals.
It’s a little after 10 P.M. and I’m at Arospace to write a review for a local website recently launched to cover Seattle nightlife. Chad Lyons, who runs the site, is with me, brandishing an array of camera equipment that would make most professional photographers envious. We’re here for “Shred Girls,” an X-Games like event for snowboarders and skateboarders, complete with launch ramps and sponsored by K2, Chicksticks.Com, and Boarding for Breast Cancer. Arospace is surprisingly a pretty good-sized club capable of holding the event.
Crossing Lake Washington on the Evergreen Floating Bridge earlier, Chad had said, “We’ll be quick. I’ll take some photos, do some 360 degree shots, and you get to know the club so that you have some background for the review.”
The radio was tuned in to a local music station at the time, when suddenly the announcer cut-in to say that the mayor of Seattle had declared a state of lockdown for the downtown core in response to the major protests of the WTO going on. I guess I was a little ignorant of the melee, because to me it was entertainment. I knew there was a much bigger picture - but following the news coverage earlier in the day was like watching a made-for-TV-movie about a large group of misfits singing “Fight the Power.” It didn’t seem real. Not in Seattle.
We took the University Exit, well aware that I-5 where it crossed under the Convention Center was probably blocked-off.
We got our first glimpse of the Chaos when we arrived at the intersection of Pike Street and Broadway. To our left a few blocks down, clouds of smoke and tear gas engulfed the downtown core, rising up from the streets and towering buildings. Tear gas canisters sailed through the air similar to CNN’s televised coverage of missile tracers flashing across the night sky over the Middle East during Desert Storm. Distant explosions of concussion grenades echoed through the city. It was a thrill to be this close to the protests, but I knew that the cops were taking people to jail so I wanted to stay away.
My girlfriend was in the backseat. She said sharply for probably the fifth time tonight, “You guy's are crazy! Let’s not do this!”
We’d argued once on the way over, and this just set me off again. “We need to get these photos for Arospace. Would you shut-up? I promise, we’ll go in and then we’ll get out of here.”
We turned east on Broadway towards Arospace, going away from downtown. Pockets of protesters, among some of the other groups present, were on the sidewalks lining both sides of the street. Chad pulled into a gas station. Even though we were the only car, only one pump was open. The man in the booth was holding up a sign when Chad went up to pay.
Chad came back to the car. “Hand me my wallet,” he said. “He won’t sell me any gas unless I let him photocopy my I.D. The police are afraid of people making Molotov Cocktails.”
I said, “You're kidding? Is that what the sign said?”
Chad started laughing. “No, it said that the state just declared Marshall Law.” He added, “I think this guy’s illiterate, the way he misspelled it and wrote it in blue-highlighter.”
My girlfriend cried out again, “Let’s go home!”
We argued, finally she just sulked in the backseat.
Pulling out of the gas station, I asked Chad, “What year is this anyway?”
“It’s a ’98.”
Calm as can be in Chad’s red 1998 Ford Mustang, we were the only car on the road in this part of the city where growing numbers along the sidewalks and alleys were taking refuge from the tear gas and riot police who were cracking down Marshall Law only a few blocks away. For Chad’s sake, I hoped he found a safe place to park his car when we got to the nightclub. Nice sports cars, riot police, and protesters don’t mix.
“It was crazy,” Chad said as we walked into the club, a long hallway before us plastered with fliers for the “Shred Girls” event. “Downtown today taking pictures, I was at an intersection that was totally blocked off with protesters, and here comes this car with a little old lady driving, trying to get through. Nobody would let her through. Finally she started nudging her car forward, and then all these protesters surrounded her car and started rocking it back and forth, this old lady’s inside swaying from side to side. So she puts her hand up and starts shaking her finger at all of them. It was hilarious.”
The event was already underway when we made it to the floor. One girl was doing some tricks on a skateboard, and a few feet away a group of breakdancers called “Circle of Fire” were doing headspins, backspins, and centipedes. They were all over the place. Housy hip-hop music shook the club. Large projections on the walls showed footage of K2 sponsored snowboarders ripping it down steep mountain slopes, flying off cliffs, and doing tricks in half-pipes.
Overall, it was a live combination. I was impressed and told Chad, who then introduced me to the promoter who had organized the event. I'd seen my share of wet-t-shirt contests and drink-till-you-drops, but this was the first time I'd ever seen skateboarders and launch ramps in a nightclub. Too bad they weren't topless.
I made my way around the floor, taking notes of the layout, chatting with the girls in the events, avoiding a couple of the guys that seemed to be staring at me. My girlfriend was still pissed off and scared for being this close to downtown, but I wanted her along so that the homosexuals on Capitol Hill would know that I’m straight.
The d.j. called attention to one of the skateboarders, a girl with baggy pants catching a great deal of air. Like the other skaters, their wasn’t much style to her moves, except to say that everytime she left the ground she’d do some tweaked out maneuver with her skateboard. Suddenly she went sideways off a ramp and slammed into a wall. Her skateboard flew across the floor and slammed into the d.j. booth.
As the minutes wore on, more patrons arrived. I had temporarily forgotten about the Chaos going on a few blocks away, and inside the club it seemed like everyone else had put it out of mind as well. But when patrons started coming in wearing white surgical masks, I knew that something was up.
“They’re gassing everyone,” a guy with a mask told me as he rubbed his eyes with his shirt. “It’s bad. They’re chasing everyone up Broadway.”
I got tugged backwards.
“Let’s get out of here!” my girlfriend shouted into my ear. She said something else and started to freak out. With more protesters taking refuge inside the club, I decided that it might start getting out of hand after all.
“I’ll grab Chad,” I told her.
Chad had his camera equipment set up by one of the launch ramps, taking shots of a girl each time she was airborne.
“It’s not going good outside,” I told him. “Look at these people. We better think about leaving soon or we might be caught in a war. Remember that old lady getting rocked back and forth you told me about? That might be us in your Mustang if we don’t take off.”
“Just a few more shots.”
Chad went back to work. I went back to my girlfriend who was helping some girl pour water in her eyes to flush out tear gas or pepper spray. It smelled like pepper spray and the top of her shirt was orange.
“Shred Girls” continued. The breakdancers were still going at it. The d.j. was still spinning.
And refugees from The Battle of Seattle continued to make their way into Arospace.
“Okay, let’s go.” It was Chad. He had his equipment under his arms. “These shots are going to look great on our site,” he said. “I took some to go with your article. I think you’ll like them.”
Screams and shouts could be suddenly heard over the house music. My girlfriend rushed for the door and disappeared outside. She ran back in. She was crying and shaking and I thought that she was overreacting. I told her to calm down, this was nothing to be afraid of. Chad told her to chill out as well. What the fuck was her problem?
Finally she seemed to calm down and we started for the door.
When we got outside all Hell had broke loose.
The first thing I saw was a seven foot tall drag queen running up Broadway with its high-heels in its hands.
This picture will be etched in my mind for years to come. You can see a plane crash, you can see a building blow up, you can see a president get shot - but nothing comes close to seeing a transvestite in full-out drag, its high-heels in its hands and its panty hose getting tore up by the pavement, as its running full speed from an army of cops and protesters and clouds of tear gas.
For the homosexuals on Capitol Hill, this was Armageddon.
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