San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom didn't exactly win friends and influence people on Wednesday when he decided to play an elaborate game of Hide the Salami with the Olympic Torch. The relay's only North American stop was scheduled to be a happy, glorious people's jog from AT&T Park, down the waterfront to Fisherman's Wharf. But spooked by upwards of 10,000 demonstrators — including the guy with the craft project seen above, here — SF officials instead treated the torch like a mobster in the witness protection program. It's in Chinatown, it's in SoMa, it's on a boat ... where the $%!& is it?
No joyous celebration of Olympic unity here. Following the opening ceremony, the torch was shuttled by bus to several undisclosed locations throughout the city before being whisked back to San Francisco International Airport and sent packing to Argentina. Hey, didn't they do that with former Nazis during the Cold War? Goodbye, torch: It was a powerful experience, even though I never actually saw you.
The torch was supposed to set off from McCovey Cove at 1 p.m., but by about 10:30 there were already 8,000 or so demonstrators packed into the area around At&T Park, and that made Newsom absolutely freak. Fearing that his elaborately arranged hairdo might get ruffled, he took evasive action, staging a series of sporadic mini-runs throughout the city. This delighted the Chinese government, but practically no one else. So, with no torch to look at, the different factions amused themselves by screaming at each other.
Witness my marginal photography skills here.
The pro-Tibet and pro-Chinese factions were supposed to have been separated on opposite sides of King Street, but soon began intermingling with little or no notice by the police. A few scuffles broke out, but it mostly remained peaceful, if loud. One thing I discovered is that the Chinese consider it the greatest form of debate tactic to stand near an opponent and beat loudly on a gong. The louder the gong, the more he he feels he is winning the argument. The blowing of whistles is also an effective way to get your point across. And when all else fails, scream confusing chants into an electric megaphone.
Overall impressions of Wednesday? A little bit of a letdown, and I'm a little ashamed, actually. Here we are, supposed to be this bastion of free speech, and at the first sign of trouble we become French. Oh, we've got to hide the torch because there might be trouble. Don't they know that we thrive on trouble? San Francisco was constructed with the stuff; built with controversy, brick by brick. The people who came out on both sides of the Olympic embroglio did their part to hold up the tradition on Wednesday, but local government let us down. On Wednesday we might as well have been Des Moines.