Saturday, March 20, 2010

Crisis of Character

Sometimes the most exciting things happen at the most unexpected times. You just have to be ready!
Here's our latest example... a few weeks ago, my wife and I were driving into Vancouver the day after the Olympics had begun. We had not planned on being there or doing this. Transportation advisories had discouraged people from driving their cars into the city: traffic restrictions, blocked-off routes, anticipated delays, the sheer volume of vehicles. All these factors had successfully persuaded most drivers to park their cars and instead take the SkyTrain into the city. But we had got a call that morning from friends who were arriving unexpectedly that same day at Vancouver airport and needed a ride to Abbotsford, so we thought: while we're already going into the city, why not take an hour-long rabbit-trail downtown in our little grey Honda Civic that wouldn't take up much space and see what was happening?
So there we were... naively driving down the freeway, talking about things: how I was feeling that the last while had seemed quite uneventful in our lives, not too much happening day-by-day, not many opportunities for ministry, things pretty well predictably the same each day, ho-hum, not very much excitement at all until...

I pulled off at the 1st Avenue Exit and all of a sudden, large black SUVs came out of nowhere, blocked off our right side, and simultaneously on our left, two others effectively did the same. Just like that, we were boxed in! The car immediately in front of us stopped dead and so did we! I didn't have time to think. Right at that same moment, an ear-shattering 'Boom!' shook our car. We both sat stunned. I looked more closely to the right, but the three SUVs' windows were tinted so I couldn't see from the outside in; you know, the kind that either the FBI or Mafia drive. I was hoping they weren't the latter.
But before I could further evaluate the situation, a squad of full-body-armoured figures surrounded us: helmets, fatigues, even machine guns held high, aimed and ready to fire. Ten, twelve, maybe. I didn't have time to make an exact count. The Boom! had commanded all my attention.
Then four doors opened in the car right in front of us and four hooded individuals exited from each door, two on each side, reversed their direction, and started walking towards our car! I couldn't believe what I was seeing: had we somehow happened on: a terrorist assault? one of the billion-dollar-Olympic security practise sessions? El-Qaeda's Olympic team entry? a foreign invasion? a scene out of Terminator VII?
I even wondered, "Had I been speeding and this was an Olympic-sized speed trap?" Somewhat of an over-the-top reaction, eh? Perhaps I was really still asleep at home in my bed and this was only a wild dream?
But no...those guys in body armour with machine guns didn't go away. They were very real. I just hoped they were the 'good guys' on 'our' side.
But these 4 in the hoodies heading towards us were really unnerving! And most unsettling was the one from the rear driver's side: dark, unshaven, his raised hoodie concealing most of his face made him look even more mysterious and sinister. My apprehension peaked when I noticed his right hand fumbling some object from his pocket as he continued walking toward us; he was only a few steps away and the object clearly was... a handgun! Thoughts raced through my mind, "What if these 4 hoodies and the 10 machine guns are on opposite sides and decide to shoot out their disagreement right here now with us in the middle?'
He took another step towards us.
I cried out to Erica, "Get down!" In the same motion, I reached clumsily for the door lock to ensure this guy and his gun would not be able to gain access to our car. Really! How ridiculous! As if one little door lock was going to protect us against him and his gun: he could have easily shot out our window if he'd wanted!
He was now right at my window. I tried to hide myself by retracting my body under the steering wheel. As if!
But then... he kept walking right on by and disappeared behind our view. I heaved a sigh of inner relief! We were still alive! But Erica's curiosity kept getting the better of her and she lifted her head above the dashboard to see what was going on. "Erica, Get down!" I shouted, as quietly as possible, and that's when we spontaneously invented this peculiar game of bobble-head: everytime she poked her head above the dash, I would put my hand on her head and push her down.
Then the scene changed. One of the full-armoured machine-gun toters on our passenger side produced a loud-hailer megaphone and boomed out, "You... in the front seat!"
We both wondered, "Is that 'You' us?"
"Drop everything. Put your hands up... in the air... slowly... open the door. Get out of the car!"
I dropped everything just in case he really did mean us. You don't want to be wrong in a situation like that. You could be dead wrong. However, I couldn't see very clearly from my hiding-place beneath the dashboard, so I wasn't exactly sure. I waited, and with no subsequent reaction from the guys with the guns, I inched my head up a little, over the dashboard, just enough so my eyes could discern whether or not we were indeed their object of attention. However, their focus seemed fully directed two cars ahead of us, on the one in front of the 4 hoodies'. I could see more clearly now: the guns were not pointing at us, but straight ahead at that second car. More relief!
It's amazing how you really don't have time to think about what you will do at a time like this.
You either respond or react. That decision has been made a long time before.

But I still had no assurance that the whole place wasn't going to explode in a hail of gunfire at any moment!
I saw movement in the suspect vehicle and slowly, a figure emerged from the back passenger side.
"First: put your hands over your head. Next: turn around. Then: start walking back towards us!"
The figure turned and became more identifiable: a man, medium height, disheveled, thin... even gaunt, long greying hair, a rather 'disconnected' look to his face. But one word immediately resonated in my mind: ugly. Not a merely physical ugly, but something beyond that: a spiritual ugly... evil personified. His greasy, dirty hair straggling to his shoulders was in turn strangled by an artwork of leaping, menacing, flaming neck tattoos. He started moving towards the megaphone and our car. It felt like the devil himself was approaching. Was he going to submit or erupt?
Henry, get down!
But my curiosity got the better of me and my eyes were soon peering over the dash again, watching I knew not what unfold around us.
'Ugly' soon stood right in front of our car and was quickly surrounded by the machine-gunners. The unshaven hoodie dude moved in, grabbed 'Ugly's' arms, and quickly handcuffed them behind his back. That was assuring: it was looking more like both the machine-gun + hoodie dudes were indeed on the same side and I was growing more hopeful that their side also was our side!
My breathing steadied a bit more. My confidence and eyes both rose a little higher, over the dashboard.
"OK!" the megaphone bellowed. "You, driver! Same thing: drop everything, raise your hands, open the door, slowly exit your vehicle!"
By this time, both Erica and I were transfixed, drinking in the amazing scene transpiring around us.
Life was suddenly very exciting... too exciting, really!
We watched and this time a woman emerged, turned and walked straight towards us. As she approached our car, she started protesting, "What's going on here? We're just out for a drive! We haven't done anything! What's the idea? How can this be happening? We haven't done anything!"
You know how you can sometmes just tell automatically when someone isn't telling the truth? Well, this was clearly one of those times. Every word she protested just mounted more evidence against her. Another of the hoodies, this time a woman, grabbed her arms and, as with 'Ugly', quickly handcuffed 'The Lady doth Protest too Much methinks'.
Then the megaphoner played out the same procedure with a third man in the backseat. However, when this one turned and made his way toward us, he somehow didn't do everything as asked. 3 or 4 of the body-armoured machine-gunners immediately surrounded him, and not only slapped handcuffs on him, but took the extra precaution and threw him down to the ground right in front of our car! I raised my head higher above the dash to see his head facedown on the pavement right under our hood. My eyes joined the focused surveillance of 4 loaded machine-guns. He was not going anywhere!
There were no more suspects in the vehicle. The unshaven hoodie dude sidled over to my window, gave me a curious grin and I read his lips through the glass, "Are you all right?"
I don't know why, but I didn't really hear him. I somehow felt I first needed to see his lips mouth those words, rather than just hear words without knowing their source. I wanted proof these were in fact his words. I needed to connect those words with that man. I finally felt enough assurance he was indeed on 'our side', so I gingerly rolled my window part ways down and asked incoherently,
"So... are we going to be on the 6 o'clock News?"
"Don't think so," he replied. "You've had enough excitement for one day, haven't you? You should be on your way home in a few minutes."
In a short time, the machine-gunners had corralled the 3 detainees off to one side. Erica and I both sat up in our seats and shared a mutual hug of relief. Within a few minutes, what had appeared to be an alarming terrorist attack had turned rather to be a routine police drug-dealer takedown. Arms that had minutes ago threatened machine-gunfire now waved us through the maze of black SUVs.
The 3 suspects sat to the side on a grassy knoll, hoods pulled over their heads. The Lady was no longer protesting. 'Ugly' was still ugly, even with his new hoodie. 'Face-in-the-ground' was turned right side up.
The crisis had come and gone. We resumed our drive downtown, somewhat still in shock and awe, wondering what all indeed had taken place in this, our Olympic experience! And we hadn't even entered the city yet!
But one major change had already happened in me: I learned to be content at home: the seemingly unexciting, all-too-predictable, everyday, not-too-much-is-happening... securing... times on this road of life.
You just can't ever tell what might happen at the next exit!


  1. have such a way with words! Couldn't help but chuckle at what my minds' eye was portraying of yours and Erica's reaction. I guess sometimes, to appreciate where we're at in life, we just need a little shake up...or in this case should I say, 'shake down'!

  2. That is quite the tale! :-) What a story to tell your grandchildren!


  3. Henry your account of this is amazing. You need to share this with the local newspaper and get a career started in writing...seriously....with your gift it is something you could use to start a business with.

  4. Great story Henry! Where Henry and Erica go, large-scale enemy take-downs happen!