APEC: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the police.

The APEC summit. Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation. An excuse for a bunch of world leaders to come to Auckland, hang out, and talk about stuff.

I was there, right in the eye of the storm.

Monday 6 September 1999

On the way to work I counted all the manhole cover seals. Most of them were little black squares with numbers on them, designed to tear if they are removed. Smaller manholes and maintenance lids had smaller white stickers.

I was walking home along Vincent Street which is where the Auckland Central Police Station and one of the hotels at APEC people will be staying at is located. I was disturbed to see the normal skanky worn out grass verge suddenly become lush, green grass in a mysterious grid pattern.

Upon closer examination I discovered that the normal skanky grass verge with its bald patches was being covered over with pre-grown grass squares.

It’s so all those APECkers will think “My, what lovely green grass verges New Zealand has. Minister Chiang, let’s remove the trade tarrifs!”

Tuesday 7 September 1999

Walking home past the Carlton Hotel I saw a metal detector in the hotel lobby – the kind where you put your bags on a conveyer belt. The best bit is that from the street I, or any other passing pedestrian, could see the screen that shows the x-rayed bag. What if you were looking and saw a gun or something on it?

Apparently the city of Hamilton is promoting itself as the place for Aucklanders to go during APEC to escape all the madness. Go to Hamilton because nothing major is happening there.

This is a big contrast from the “Hamilton: Where it’s happening” bullshit I had to endure when I was livin’ there.

Wednesday 8 September 1999

I had lunch at Food Alley, which is across the road from the pink hotel on Albert Street where the Americans are staying, but I can never remember its name. While I was there a few guys with APEC name tags came in. Should Bill Clinton want a curry, he could sent one of his fellows across the road to get one.

There are lots of cars with APEC stickers on them around the central city. Some of them are nice new Fords, but others are miscellaneous older vehicles. Some of the stickers say “PROTOCOL”. I don’t really know what that is, exactly, but it sounds really cool.

Thursday 9 September 1999

Walking to work past the Carlton hotel I saw a policeman step out into the road and stop two lanes of on-coming traffic. A car parked by the side of the road then did a u-turn. I thought it was really funny and laughed and the cop looked at me, like maybe I was laughing at him. I am obviously in the wrong line of work. No one stops traffic when I do a u-turn.

When I left for lunch there was a motorcycle cop standing on the corner of Victoria and Albert Streets. An hour later when I came back he was still there. He was just standing there, looking around. His bike was parked a bit down the road on the footpath.

A fire engine pulled up outside Whitcoulls just as I was going in it. When I came out about 10 minutes later there was a cop being interviewed by a TV1 camera crew and a few other APEC-accredited press standing near with notebooks and tape recorders. No apparent fire engine-worthy ruckus could be seen.

According to the Herald the next morning, someone had let off a smoke bomb in the Science Fiction section of Whitcoulls, but there was nothing to be alarmed about.

I saw a movie after work and as I was walking home I saw an old man standing on Mayoral Drive across the road from the Carlton Hotel holding a sign. There were two candles burning and a wooden cross on a stand. The sign said “While you dine, others die”. He appeared to be wearing religious robes of some sort – possibly Catholic. He said he’d been there for a few hours, and wasn’t about to go home yet. He also said he didn’t care if Jenny Shipley didn’t see him. He was happy just standing there.

Further up the road were two cops guarding the perimeter of the Aotea Centre. One was from Taupo, the other from Mount Maunganui. They were both nice fellows. We talked and they said they spend eight hours a day standing around. They did rotate around the perimeter. There were designated spots, marked with letters of the alphabet. They were on the G spot. Hur hur hur.

We talked about violent protesters, about how the secret service and all the foreign diplomatic security people have diplomatic protection, so if you shout “Ha ha, Mr Clinton, I have got a bomb in my pants!!!” they will shoot you.

Friday 10 September 1999

This morning I stopped off at Starbucks and got a grande low-fat hazelnut latte. It was free cos they were giving out free vouchers on opening day. I drank it as I walked to work. I went down Greys Ave and there’s a hotel down there with APECkers in it. There were heaps of Ford Transits parked on the footpath and some cops standing outside. I was approached by a policewoman. The first thought that went through my mind was that she might have thought the coffee was some sort of terrorist device, but she wanted to know where I’d got the coffee from. So I gave her directions to get to Starbucks and she thanked me.

There are a lot of white and orange barriers waiting at the side of various roads for the numerous road blocks. Some of them are provided by a company by the name of “Barricading Solutions”. “Hi, I have a problem, I somehow need to stop cars from driving down certain roads? I can’t think how to do it!” “As a solution, how about putting up some barricades!” “Yes! What a great idea!”

Saturday 11 September 1999

The first day of big road closures in the central city, so I had a walk around town. There was a protest of a few people chanting “APEC go home!”. New Zealand is part of the P in APEC, so, er, to what home to the New Zealand delegates, go to?

Outside the Civic theatre there was a huge mural. A collection of photos of New Zealanders taken by Amnesty International. They photos were cut around the sentence “APEC leaders must put human rights first”. One of the photos was of a girl I went to school with. I hadn’t seen her for seven years. Spooky. It must be, like, fate or something.

I didn’t venture any further down Queen Street, but if I had I very well may have seen Madeline Albright doing some shopping. My flatmate saw her and her posse. He said there were also secret security guys trying to disguise themselves as people hangin’ on the street, but they gave it away by looking around all the time.

Sunday 12 September 1999

I was a bit tired of all the action in the central city so I ventured out West to Waitakere City and enjoyed the novelty of open streets and not seeing a cop on every corner. However the lure of the city was a-callin’ so later in the day I went for a walk in town.

The usual city streets were closed off and police were standing guard in their regular places, so for a bit of excitement I ventured further down Queen Street where it was closed off.

Outside the City Life hotel a group of police were standing around. When they saw me and some other people approaching, they quickly formed a line and requested that we cross to the other side of the road.

From the other side I could see that some important looking Asian people were coming out of the hotel and getting into cars. A late night McDonald’s run, no doubt.

I then walked up Albert Street. As I approached the Stamford Plaza (the big pink hotel where the American President and his posse are staying) a policeman and a secret service guy stepped out. The secret service guy was wearing a black overcoat and was really short. He looked more like and actor playing a secret service guy than a real one. The police officer asked me to cross the road.

I briefly considered saying “Why should I? It is a free country, bloody fascist oink oink piggy boys” but my survival instinct took over and I said “Fair enough” and crossed over.

Then just regular normal blocked off streets and police on corners. I went through a brief period of thinking that a helicopter was following me, but my ego trip soon ended when I realised that it had just been circling over the area and it then took off in the opposite direction.

Monday 13 September 1999

There were pretty much the same road closures as yesterday, but it was meant to be hugely inconvenient due to the fact that people were working. It was sweet for me. I walked to work as I always do. I had a lot less traffic lights to wait at and the only thing inconvenient was the rain which was only really annoying because my skanky shoe started leaking.

Walking past the casino I saw two buses with “Washington Press Corp” signs on the side. Given that the chance of me seeing Bill is pretty rare, I will instead bask in the glory of seeing the transportation of the the people who follow his career.

A few shops were closed because the shopkeepers couldn’t be bothered going to work. Bloody slack arses. I made it to work, walking through the rain with a leaky shoe. This country has no intestinal fortitude.

I was impressed when the police on point duty stopped traffic and signalled for pedestrians to cross.

Apparently police on point duty have been abused by angry drivers. Most of them are from out of Auckland, so they’re going to go home muttering “bloody Dorklanders”.

The promised battle royale between protesters and police yesterday didn’t happen. So it seems that instead of getting out with placards and chanting down Queen Street, the de rigeur form of protest is road rage.

People who haven’t planned ahead or even bothered to take road closures into their travel plans are getting angry and yelling at the police officers. Like the police woke up this morning and said “Hmmm, what can we do today? I know, let’s inconvenience motorists to the point of anger and frustration!”

I think the road-ragers are most angry because it’s not easy to run a stop signal when there’s a person standing in the way.

14 September 1999

A dreaded sunny day, and everything is more or less back to normal.

The streets are again filled with happy shoppers. Shopkeepers are complaining that no one bought anything on Monday, except the Auckland museum gift shop, who sold lots of stuff to Mr President.

The streets are open again and single-driver cars make their way to work. A few APEC-stickered cars are among them.

Aotea square is open home again to the usual assortment of folks who like to hang out there. A couple of park benches nearby are again home to two men.

And it’s all over. My excuse for collecting amusing anecdotes is conveniently gone, but it was lots of fun, and I’m saving up to go to wherever the next APEC will be held next year.

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