Thursday, March 29, 2012

100 Miles and Runnin'

A return to rambling.

Although I may not have looked much like a gangster from the ghetto at the time, what with my blotchy, pimply skin and unmanageable red hair; a school uniform comprising a three-toned striped tie with matching cricket blazer, long shorts and long socks - back in the early '90s, sixteen year old Donkey and his private school chums, like their compatriots growing-up in 'The Projects', were pretty obsessed with hard core American rap music.

This was just before Las Angeles erupted into flames and was flooded with more military personnel and hardware than East Beirut.  It's by no means not clear why we were so fired-up by the likes of Public Enemy and Ice Cube – perhaps we'd somehow confused the neatly clipped lawns, white-washed mansions and European cars of Melbourne's Southeast suburbs with the boarded-up shopfronts of Southeast LA (for sure, an easy mistake to make).  Whatever the trigger, we'd become all consumed with pimps, bitches, ho's, drugs and drive-bys, and were on a head-on plunge down the amoral slope towards hard core sexism, racism and anti-authoritarianism (although to be fair the latter amounted to little more than one of us – and certainly not me – once pissing on the tyre of a parked, unmanned postal truck).

For me, personally, my biggest influence here had been NWA, the Niggaz With Attitude.  Sure, it was probably tracks with exciting, risqué names like Fuck the Police that got me listening in the first place, but what I really came to love was the theatrics of many of their tracks, and in particular, the great story telling.  My favourite was 100 Miles and Runnin', which took us on a super-paced, action-packed prison break following the 'Niggaz in Black' as they high-tailed it out of the Federal Penitentiary on their way, so FBI sources informed us, for their home base, Compton.  A fantastic, high-speed yarn indeed, although it did always seem strange to me that if the FBI knew where the Brothers were goin', they might have saved themselves the chase and just headed straight over to Compton to round them up...

The main event – Back in the Pac.

S'nice to be back in a small pond again; seeing the same faces in the stores, restaurants and bars each day; the same protruding butt cracks and flabby bellies crammed onto the only open, accessible beach on a Sunday afternoon; being privy to all the juicy social scandals within moments of an illicit wink, kiss or haphazard lover's retreat out the backdoor while one's partner walks in through the front. 

Even more enjoyable is returning to a place where, simply by virtue of the size and proximity of the population, one is so much closer to the [only slightly] higher brow happenings of Government and big business.  And Mrs Donkey is in her element with not one, but two Z-class local newspapers; she's resisted the urge thus far, but I can tell she's only one typo, sexist or racist remark away from a semi-publishable (but sure to be published), outraged letter under some translucently flimsy pseudonym.

But it's not all palm trees, pina coladas, tea-on-the-lawn and cucumber sandwiches.  In fact, even before The Donkeys - now with new edition completing the full nuclear configuration - left for the sunny skies of Port Vila, the pre-departure briefing notes supplied by Donkey's new employer flagged the following security concern:

Prison breakouts have occurred.  Crime rates may increase in the period following a breakout.  We advise you to pay close attention to your own security, monitor the media for events that may affect your safety and security and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Mrs D and I nearly choked on our daiquiris upon reading this - such an odd addition for something that 'has occurred', we laughed.  But we've now been here for two months, and there have been no less than three mass breakouts from the same prison.

Upon a breakout, the fun starts immediately.  First the rumours shoot through the town, followed by email warnings confirming the rumours, and successfully designed to spread abject panic amongst the expatriate citizenry (especially the yanks – they seem to absolutely lose it).

For the most part, at least for the casual, but very interested observer, I find these breakouts kinda fun.  Let's face it, we live on an island, and everyone knows each other, so where are they gonna go?  They bust out, find themselves with no long-term plan, so decide to go on a bender of wine, women and song, and the first thing they need to get them there is cash.  The houses immediately surrounding the prison get done-over for money, jewellery, phones and iPods within moments of the perpetrators having gained their liberty, and ten minutes later, the gear is sold for a song and the fugitives are at one of seven bars in town throwing back beer and whisky faster than country kids attending their first University O-Week. 

It's a game, and for the most part, is relatively harmless.  Just three weeks ago, about eight inmates went 'over the top' (I didn't mention that the high risk prison facility in town, known colloquially as 'Container City' consists of cells made out of converted shipping containers surrounded by a single, standard, rusting cyclone fence with gaps beneath as wide as those between the gates).  The authorities seemed thrown for days, being unable to work out where they could have escaped to, only to discover the answer when the fugitives all turned themselves in a week later. 

They'd been 'hiding out' ... with their families ... two suburbs away!  With the help of their community leaders, they released a statement to the press describing their whereabouts and explaining that their escape had been designed to draw attention to their poor living conditions and inadequate meals.  As I said, a game.

But things took an ugly turn this week when the latest mass escape saw twelve hardened criminals disappear into the urban expanse one evening.  As usual, the rumours started, then the disturbing emails; this one from a colleague;

Was on the bus with a policewoman this morning and she mentioned they were last seen early this morning around 4am at Beverly Hills area - Ples blong ol Man Ambrym [description of a location].
Beware, Beverly Hills and Belview residents! Stay safe, 

Ha!  Did I mention this feels like a game?  If it wasn't for the fact that the Donkeys had only just moved into a house at Bellevue and stocked it full of all our worldly possessions, I'd be pissing myself about the way this piece of intelligence was leaked to the community – not by official FBI-type sources, but by a police woman riding on a bus (note: there are not enough police cars).  And the other thing to note is that these suburbs are literally only a 5 minute drive away (OK, 10 minutes on the bus) for the cops to get there and round 'em up ... but I am getting ahead of myself here.  As I mentioned, immediately upon breakout, first come the rumours, then the panic-provoking emails, and eventually the press statements earnestly urging residents to be alert, not alarmed, and to be assured that Vanuatu Correctional Services will apprehend these felons lickety-split;

Good Morning all.
[Faithful translation] Just a short message to let you know that 12 high risk prisoners escaped from Container City at around 10pm last night.  Ensure your families and property are safe.  We will be deploying soon for a recapture operation.
You all have a nice day.

And I kid you not, that was the sign-off.  Uh-ha, oh-kay, now that I know for sure that they are high risk prisoners, and that after twelve hours, Correctional Services are still bumbling about trying to find a car with enough fuel to take them 5 minutes down the road, I feel much better about the situation.  Thanks, I will have a nice day, especially as I've also received the attached, angry-looking mug-shots of 'The Disgruntled Twelve' (as we're now calling them in our suddenly less-secure-feeling Bellevue house).

I guess that if the LAPD couldn't work it out to skip the chase and meet NWA at their known destination, I shouldn't be all that amazed that the Vanuatu Police Force remain the last people in town to know that The Disgruntled Twelve are at their mothers' homes right now chowing-down on some baked taro before hitting the town for some grog-fuelled booty action.  I guess this post going live is testament to my laptop remaining in my possession, so hopefully that means the VPF have finally wizened-up to the game ... it is good to be back.

Fortunately for the VPF, they'll not have to push much past 3 ... but still they probably won't make it.  Pic: