"They got the shoe cannon, eh"

While awaiting George W.'s arrival, two worlds collide on Calgary's Stephen Avenue

Above, in the windows overlooking Stephen Avenue, were the pinstriped class biding their time before heading in to hear former president George W. Bush give his first speech since leaving office. Below, on Stephen Avenue, was the motley crew of protestors, about 200 of them, assembled, placarded, some even hooded, to let Bush know he wasn’t wanted in Calgary.

One storey and the glass of the Calgary Telus Convention Centre separated the two groups, yet they were one in their pursuit of the juvenile.

A man in a suit and tie above taunted the protestors below, toasting them with a half-glass of wine, then drinking flamboyantly in profile. “Anybody else want to say hello?” he asked a trio of pretty young conservatives standing by him. Below, a protestor shook his head. Another, bearded and slightly unkempt, pointed up to the man before embarking on a show of obscene gestures, grabbing his crotch, swinging his hips and miming fellatio.

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: George W. speaks in Calgary: Defends his decision to invade Iraq. Offers Obama help, if he wants it. And why Calgary was the first stop on his speaking tour.

But the less fortunate of the Bush-goers were still below, waiting in the cold as the protestors, held back by just a narrow band of police officers, jostled, shouted “shame,” or epithets unsuited for a family website.

No wonder the Bush event began with the ordeal of security. First pockets were emptied, jackets peeled off. The rub down and magnetic wandings attendees submitted to before receiving guard-approval should have put them on a first-name basis with security; that didn’t happen. So intimate was the frisking that women were shown into a female-only corner of the convention centre.

The result of the gauntlet was a security bottleneck that kept the queue outside lengthy, snaking down Stephen Avenue, a longer wait than many had anticipated. Once through and upstairs, many in the throng of debonair business people lined the windows, newly agog at the spectacle of the protestors now that they were safe, warm and equipped with an alcoholic drink from the cash bar.

“They got the shoe cannon, eh,” one man was heard to exclaim of the protestors, referring to a contraption designed to shoot shoes, apparently to some distance. A man in Guantanamo-style orange overalls and a black hood gesticulated as he spoke to a bicycle cop, the dreaded shoe cannon by his side. Police soon dispatched it a safe distance.

“What are they chanting?” asked a nicely put together young blond with a silver scarf. Reading was easier than straining to hear the chant through the plate glass. “Give us the truth about 9/11,” read one sign. “Women against war and occupation,” another read, or another: “Canada is not Bush country.” When a skirmish between a protestor and police broke out below, some watching above cheered. “They’re arresting a guy now,” an older woman, clearly delighted, exclaimed. It was a sporting event, but with the added bonus of not just different jerseys, but delicious ideological differences too. “Do you not have jobs to go to. Or university?” asked one woman, looking down upon the masses.

Just then, organizers shoed the spectators away from the windows. But there was new eye candy here: Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein showed up. Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson. Even country singer Paul Brandt. Had they too braved the friskers? It was something new to think about, for a while.

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