This is the nineteenth installment in Peter’s “Bum Logic” series, about his investigation into our inadvertent complicity in climate change, continued from his last post, What Color are You?
“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts” – Yvon Chouinard
At 10:30 AM on January 7, 2013, I was not where I wanted to be. I was in the stairwell of an office building in Houston, Texas. Things were going wrong.
In the preceding half-hour, I had entered the Galleria Mall from a parking garage. I was wearing business attire: grey slacks, white cotton button-up, light blue neck tie, and a brown leather belt to match my brown leather shoes. Under my shirt, taped to my belly was a four-liter bladder of water. It looked like an unenviable beer-gut. The water was intended to dilute any pepper spray that might find its way into my or my companion’s eyes.
My partner, Jeffrey, looked like an aging businessman. He had glasses, an expensive-looking wristwatch, and a thick grey beard. He was also carrying a briefcase that contained two four-foot-long segments of thick steel chain and a four-pack of MasterLock Magnum 1-3/4″ Laminated Covered Long Shackle Locks, advertised as “nearly impossible to cut with bolt cutters.” We’d thrown the keys in a gas station restroom’s waste bin.
Without talking Jeffrey and I walked side by side into the elevator that would take us up to Suite 400, the American home of the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project (Keystone XL). As the elevator doors shut, Jeffrey pressed send on his cell phone, an action that would trigger a group of fifty-plus individuals to congregate outside a specified door in the parking garage.
When we exited the elevator, we approached a pair of glass sliding doors, laser-etched TransCanada and protected by swipe-card access. Jeffrey smiled through the glass at a receptionist sitting behind a desk. She smiled back. He took out his wallet and pantomimed a search, then pantomimed confusion and helplessness while searching his pockets. The receptionist smiled and stood, expressing with her body language that she’d bought his act. She opened the doors for us and said, “Good morning.”
Jeffrey said, “Good morning, ma’am. Thanks for letting us in. Don’t know where my card snuck off to since last month’s accountant’s meeting.”
The receptionist, presumably well-lubricated with anti-depressants, smiled again and returned to her post. She said, “Talk with Stacy over there on the left before you leave and she can print you out another.”
Jeffrey took out his phone and again pressed send, triggering those fifty-plus individuals to exit the parking garage and silently walk up four flights of stairs. He looked up and said, “Will do.”
At that we started down a cubicle-bordered hallway, took a left and stopped in front of a fire exit. When Jeffery opened it, we saw what we didn’t expect: no one. We stepped into the stairwell, and as the door closed behind us, I caught it and didn’t let it click shut.
Jeffrey typed on his phone.
“Jeffrey, they’ll be here in a minute. We should lock down in the doorway and keep it open.” I had to whisper my beliefs.
If everything had gone as planned, it would have gone like this:
We open the door to the fire exit. A bunch of folks dedicated to peaceful protest but mad as hell about Tar Sands extraction in Alberta, would stream into the office and incite pandemonium. While someone—perhaps the friendly receptionist—would demonstrate their loyalty to their multi-national corporate employer and call the police, Jeffrey and I would quietly take out our keyless locks and secure ourselves to each other and to something structural. Upon the arrival of the police and the synchronous dispersal of the pandemonium inciters, Jeffrey and I would inform the officers of the law of our inability to leave under our own power. The police would notify a TransCanada honcho. The honcho would undoubtedly send his minions home for the day, and our goal of hindering the construction of an unneeded pipeline would be achieved.
“I hear them,” Jeffrey said.
“Me too, let’s lock down.”
The sound of rushed footsteps on concrete.
My eyes lock with a familiar face, finger held to lips, signaling for silence.
More familiar faces lining up, almost fifteen of them.
“We should go,” I pleaded, and as I did I felt a tug on the door. Someone tried to close it. I resisted.
“Now!” I pulled the door to open it. At almost the same time that I realized I was in a strength-based competition with an unseen stranger, I also realized they had won. The door clicked shut.
“Shit! They shut the door!” I tried to open it. “It’s locked.”
“I can pick it.” A crusty punk kid from Detroit pushed to the front. “Give me a credit card.”
I handed him my driver’s license, watched him violently jam it against something that wouldn’t do what he wanted it to.
He turned to me, handed my card back. “Let’s get out of here.”
I think, Attempted breaking and entering: felony, no thanks.
The that night local news station KHOU reported on the day’s events:
The tar sands exploitation is the most ecologically destructive project on planet earth right now. And indigenous communities are being poisoned,” Ron Seifert, a demonstrator, said.
That belief has spawned demonstrations in opposition to the TransCanada Keystone pipeline, which when completed will move oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Most of the protests have occurred along construction points.
But in a new move, demonstrators invaded TransCanada’s Houston headquarters in an attempt to disrupt the flow of business as well.
“We want to have face-to-face discussions with these people. We want to let them know that there is resistance to the harm that they’re doing,” Seifert said.
Instead of face-to-face discussions, two protestors were arrested in the building’s lobby.
Jeffrey and I avoided arrest. Nevertheless, that night I had trouble sleeping. I kept flashing back to an image of people kneeling five rows deep before a line of grim-looking cops. The people chanted, “Officer will you help me? My life is in danger! There are eco-terrorists upstairs.”
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.