Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Great Canadian Trucker War, Con't

A couple of weeks back I warned that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau's decision to require truckers entering Canada to be vaccinated could have far-reaching effects. Now we see that Canada is facing thousands of protesting truckers in the capital of Ottawa, so many that Trudeau and other politicians have been moved from the city to an undisclosed location for safety.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Canada’s capital on Saturday to protest vaccine mandates, masks and lockdowns.

Some parked on the grounds of the National War Memorial and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, others carried signs and flags with swastikas and some used the statue of Canadian hero Terry Fox to display an anti-vaccine statement, sparking widespread condemnation.

“I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame,” tweeted Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada’s Defense Staff chief.

Protestors compared vaccine mandates to fascism, one truck carried a Confederate flag and many carried expletive-laden signs targeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The statue of Fox, a national hero who lost a leg to bone cancer as a youngster, then set off in 1980 on a fundraising trek across Canada, was draped with a upside down Canadian flag with a sign that said “mandate freedom.”

Trudeau retweeted a statement from The Terry Fox Foundation that said “Terry believed in science and gave his life to help others.”

Eric Simmons, from Oshawa, Ontario, said all vaccine mandates should be ended.

“They’re not effective, they’re not working. It’s not changing anything. We can’t keep living like this. People are losing their jobs because they don’t want to get the vaccine,” Simmons said.

The convoy of truckers and others prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and warn residents to avoid downtown. A top Parliament security official advised lawmakers to lock their doors amid reports their private homes may be targeted.

Trudeau has said Canadians are not represented by this “very troubling, small but very vocal minority of Canadians who are lashing out at science, at government, at society, at mandates and public health advice.″

The prime minister’s itinerary for the day usually says he is in Ottawa if he’s at home, but on Saturday it said “National Capital Region” amid a report he’s been moved to an undisclosed location. One of Trudeau’s kids has COVID-19 and the prime minister has been isolating and working remotely.

Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and the premier of the province of Quebec who is proposing to tax the unvaccinated is popular.

Some are, in part, protesting a new rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance said a great number of the protesters have no connection to the trucking industry, adding they have a separate agenda to push. The alliance notes the vast majority of drivers are vaccinated.

The organizers of the protest have called for the forceful elimination of all COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates and some called for the removal of Trudeau.
Needless to say, things are tense in Ottawa right now. We'll see how this weekend continues, but at this point I would expect Trudeau to address the nation today or tomorrow.

Sunday Long Read: The Street Fighters

Our Sunday Long Read is NBC's Tim Hayden recounting the story he did on US skiing champion Picabo Street in 1998 for the Nagano Olympics, and the path Street has taken since then leading up to the premiere of her Peacock documentary this week ahead of the Beijing Winter Games.

This is a new story about an old story, and about a documentary film that is part highlight reel and part confessional; about a once-famous ski racer and the disorienting ecosystem of the Olympic Games. It is about public faces, fungible narratives, and family secrets, and more broadly, about the strange, flawed, and mutually mercenary relationship that always exists between writers and subjects. It is about time passing, and wounds healing. It begins almost 24 years ago, on Valentine’s Day morning of 1998, in the alpine resort of Hakuba, 30 miles from the Olympic city of Nagano, and where I was covering the Games, and specifically, Alpine skiing, for Sports Illustrated.

After breakfast that day, I walked from my little mountain condo, past vacation homes and small inns to a nearby convenience store, as I had done nearly every day. It was sunny, with cotton ball clouds, and snow was piled in colossal formations at the side of the narrow roadway, and bestride every driveway. The '98 Olympics had been even more cursed by weather than usual, with two rip-snorting blizzards and one torrential rainstorm, and this fickle weather had upended the racing schedule and become part of the story of the Games. Races had been postponed and re-scheduled multiple times, leaving athletes uncertain and unmoored (or in one high-profile instance, relieved).

On the way back to my condo, I ran into Ron Street, the then-59-year-old father of the top U.S. racer, 27-year-old Picabo Street. The family and several friends had been living in a ski home in the woods, a place called Log Haven, not far from the SI condo. Our meeting was vaguely awkward. Picabo had come to the Games just 14 months after a terrible crash and knee injury and only 12 days after a concussion but she had won a surprising gold medal in the Olympic Super-G, an event she had never won on the World Cup circuit. The downhill, her specialty, lay ahead. It was clear by then that she would be featured prominently in my weekly magazine story, which was still a significant thing in largely pre-digital 1998. Seeking some access to distinguish that piece, I had asked Picabo’s agent to let me spend some time inside Log Haven, for color. That access had been promised, and then pulled back, which happens. Shrug.

That morning I said a cautious hello to Ron, a solidly-built stonemason and ex-Marine with a salt-and-pepper beard, whose big personality and storytelling flair had made him a conduit for amplifying the (very true) Picabo narrative about a close-knit family from rural Idaho that raised one of the best American women’s downhillers in history. (There’s nothing in sportswriting quite like a colorful parent or sibling to add ballast to profiles). Ron knew that I had been trying to get embedded, and had failed. "Man, I’m sorry," he said. He had his hands in his pockets, shuffling his feet, sure signs of a source who is about to unload, with just a little nudge. Which he did.

Ron told me that things had been uneasy inside Log Haven, culminating in a family-and-friends throwdown early that morning when members of the entourage came in very late from a night of partying downtown. He was frustrated and angry, and in no small part worried about his daughter’s readiness. "There used to be just a few of us, and we could go anywhere we wanted," he said. "Now we need three cars and we’re an entourage." Classic angle: Trouble in paradise. It was, as we say in the biz, good stuff.

Two days later, under blue skies and on hillsides, cleared of powder and transformed into icy race hills, Street finished sixth in the downhill, missing a bronze by .17 seconds. We talked afterward, and she acknowledged the unrest that her father had relayed to me. "We vibrate on a high level in our family," she said. She also said that she missed a medal because — after all those crashes, "… I didn’t want to go into the fence." It was Monday midday in Japan, Sunday night back at the SI offices in New York, which meant that I was on deadline.

I wrote a story that was equal parts Street and men’s double gold medalist Hermann Maier of Austria, for whom weather delays enabled recovery from a legendary downhill crash. The magazine, dated Feb. 23, 1998, featured my friend Carl Yarbrough’s remarkable shot of an airborne Maier on the cover, and inside, another of Carl’s images, this one of Street winning the Super-G, under the headline: Street Fighting. My story paired up Maier and Street and suggested strongly that the weather had allowed Maier to heal and Team Street to come unglued. I did not dismiss Street’s assertion that caution — and not family unrest — had slowed her downhill run, but I made it the B Side, a conscious choice.

Picabo did not like the story. She wrote a book that was published in 2001, in which she suggested that I had staked out their family’s rental home in Japan and underplayed her belief that it was self-preservation that slowed her, ever so slightly, in the downhill. Fair enough. In advance of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, I requested interviews with Picabo, and she declined. All of the above comes with the territory. She retired after those 2002 Games, and I went on, covering other skiers, which is the customary process in our worlds. That was that.

But it felt unfinished. Last Friday the documentary Picabo premiered on Peacock. Among those behind the project is Lindsey Vonn, who first idolized Street and then succeeded her as the best U.S. women’s speed skier in history (and went on to become the best speed skier, male or female, period). Also involved is Hollywood veteran and Olympic enthusiast (and former USOPC vice president) Frank Marshall. It is ostensibly the story of Street’s non-traditional upbringing, unlikely stardom and very adult struggles, but also a reckoning with scars kept hidden. (Peacock is owned by, and I am employed by NBC, so it’s inappropriate for me to offer a recommendation. But if you are new to the Picabo Street story, this will get you caught up).

The film tells of a family that lived at the base of a steep hillside in Triumph, Idaho and grew its own food, and of a little girl named after a Native American word for "Shining Waters." That was the broad-strokes narrative that followed Street onto the world stage. But the harsher backbone of the film is Street’s complex relationship with her father, a man she idolized, but whom she also describes as engaging in abusive behavior with her mother, while she and her older brother, Baba, were children, lying awake. "If you wake up to your parents fighting, you know it," Street told Vonn in the film. "There’s a certain thump on the floor, there’s a certain sound of a slap, there’s a certain velocity of voice that stays with you forever."

Baba Street, in the film, says, "An attribute about dad that a lot of people didn’t know is that he would give you the shirt off his back, he was an extremely giving person. But he also carried a lot of anger in his life."

This was the family secret that Picabo kept buried throughout a decade-long rise to the top of the ski racing world and into the homes of American Olympic television viewers. It’s the secret that she took to Nagano, and which I almost stumbled upon, but not quite.
How different would things have been for Street and her career if the story of 1998 had been her family issues and not her performance? Would it have changed the lives of others for better or worse? We don't know, but looking back at it, it's certainly worth considering.
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