Wednesday, August 20, 2008

23 and in the Back of a Police Van

Because Sunday was my birthday and since Monday (and the job) comes after Sunday, my friend Ilze graciously offered the use of her house in Jurmala for a pre-birthday dinner/party. There were only four of us there total (other people were out of town or otherwise already engaged), but after a simple dinner we still had several hours to kill before we could officially open the champagne. We played some boggle, made up plenty of words, and, around 11 P.M., decided to head down to the beach, taking the champagne with us.

At the beach we walked around then dutifully attacked one of the most messed-up playgrounds I have ever seen. After a good 20 minutes of spinning around in awkward metal frames and trying to make a huge, tilted plastic ring go around in circles by heave-ho-ing movements (it worked once before, but seemed to fail this time), we sat down to chat and wait for the wonderful 00:00.

A good-sized group of people our age were also hanging around the area; some of them ended up at the playground on the swings. Two of them bummed cigarettes from Davids; a bit later one of them sat down on the benches behind us and eventually joined us in conversation. He was quite drunk and tried to mostly communicate with us in Russian and sometimes English, though he also spoke Latvian. But when someone is drunk to the point where he asks you twice in 30 seconds where you're from and then forgets that he's told you his name, consequently thinking it's some kind of magic you know it already, I'm not surprised. Everything was fine and dandy until we decided it was getting a bit awkward and we wanted to head back home. The guy had invited all of us to come with him and hang out with his friends and drink, but we passed, saying it was late, maybe we'd meet with them tomorrow, etc. Then he got angry as we were quickly walking away and started to follow after us, shouting at us in Russian first in general and then using some choice words. Everyone else from his group had already moved on down the beach in the opposite direction, except one of his friends who seemed to be there just to make sure the guy didn't do anything too stupid. Apparently and unfortunately, repeatedly grabbing onto women and aggressively shouting and following a group of people doesn't fall under the category of "stupid". I personally kept thinking "Okay, after this bout he's going to stop, after the next 10 ft he's going to give up", but no. The two of them followed us all the way from the beach, up the cobblestone/cement path leading to the beach, past a very large group of people (who did nothing, by the way, to try and help us), all the way down one of the main roads until we approached a hotel, at which time they gave up, but not without Mr. Drunk and Belligerent shouting some final words in our direction. I think we were more shocked than anything; we didn't run, we didn't fight them. But it was definitely rough not knowing exactly what they were saying to each other. The non-belligerent friend kept trying to tell one of our group that if he just gave Mr. D and B 70 santims for a beer, he'd stop following us. We were basically chased at a snail's pace.

As soon as we got up the stairs of the hotel and into the lobby, the Davids looked down at his watch and let out a half-strained "Happy birthday!" Kristine and Ilze joined in, I was congratulated, and we were thrilled that we weren't bleeding on the street or dead, happy birthday.

After a quick consultation with the man at Reception I was handed the hotel phone and put through to the Jurmala Municipal Police, who, apparently, would pick us up and escort us back home. I had asked if there was hotel security that could do that or if we could be called a cab (even though none of us had our wallets with us), but it turns out that the Municipal Police are required provide escort in such situations. Or maybe any situation, I'm not sure. So I explained to the woman on the other end what had happened and that we just lived a few blocks away, but didn't know what to expect and weren't comfortable walking back through the streets. She said we'd be picked up soon.

About 15 minutes later, a tall and rather attractive policeman walked into the hotel. My opinion was backed up by the sudden silence from Ilze and Kristine. (Note: After we had gotten home the three of us seriously contemplated running back into the night and causing trouble just so we'd be picked up again.)

Me: *walks toward policeman* You're the one then, yeah?
Policeman: Then you're the one who called?
Me: Yes.
Pm: Alright, let's roll.
*The group follows the policeman outside*
Pm: So, what happened, exactly?
Me: *tells the short version of the story*
Pm: *referring to Davids* Couldn't he have done anything?
*to Davids* What, haven't you ever learned to box?
Me: *laughs like it's the funniest thing anyone has ever said*
Davids: Huh? What?
Me: *careful not to say that Ilze, Kristine and myself could have done just as well physically defending ourselves and that I have a bottle of Riga champagne in my bag that would be worth at least two blows* Well you never know what the other person is capable of - and it would be two against one.
Pm: Yeah - I was just joking.
Me: *super quick to agree* I know I know.

The four of us got into the back of the police van and I doubt that we appeared to be as frazzled about the whole thing as we really were (we spent the remainder of the night back at Ilze's discussing the what-ifs): Ilze started to giggle semi-without reason, Davids started to joke-dance to the rock music the policeman turned on, and Kristine leaned forward between the driver and other policeman, elbows on the backs of their seats like we were on a road trip.

In hindsight, despite the situation, we made it through the best way we could AND we got to ride in the back of a police van. On my birthday morning :) I felt a bit bad about having to be driven back to Ilze's house, but in all honesty, it was the middle of the weekend and the policemen seemed bored out of their minds. Despite that, they were not at all rude and had senses of humour. So if you've heard bad things about Latvian policemen, know that the statement isn't bulletproof.

After sleeping in Sunday and having a late breakfast of grilled-cheese and tomatoes, courtesy of Davids, we headed out and spent the remainder of the day at the Riga Zoo. After dinner we went out to Krastmala (Riverbank) to watch eight fireworks teams compete for the chance to organize the New Year's Eve fireworks show. I took over 550 photos that day - if I ever catch up on my sleep this week and have a night where I don't take any work home, I'll post them and all of those other promised photos at the page. I SWEAR.

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