Angels and Airwaves

The Guardian Angels are taking a run at Canada again.

Their Canadian Director, Lou Hoffer, has been doing a good job of trotting around the radio stations and print media, getting the word out about their recruitment drives going on in Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. Hoffer also has his work cut out, trying to raise awareness of their desperate need for funding in Canada.

Unfortunately, negative impressions of the Angels' operations still prevail in many ways. People fear and distrust what they don't fully understand; sometimes with bizarre results. Occasionally, the issue is simply one of branding.

Hearing Hoffer interviewed on the radio the other afternoon reminded me of a genuinely weird conversation with a Vancouver cab driver a month or so ago, when Angels' founder Curtis Sliwa was in that city, promoting the cause.

On the trip out to Vancouver airport, with the radio playing quietly in the background, my cabbie turned to me and started in on what became a lengthy, angry rant. From memory, his thesis ran something like this:

"My taxes pay for the police to wipe out all these bastard Hell's Angels. We've just started getting them under control - they shot eight of them outside Toronto, you know - good for them!"

Well, actually, not true - the eight bikers killed in Shedden, Ontario, were linked to the Bandidos gang; and the theory seems to be that they were murdered by their own colleagues.

But he was just getting warmed up:

"So we just spent all these millions to kick the Angels out and get control in Vancouver and Toronto - and now there's another load of the bastards trying to get back in."

Only half-listening, I think I volunteered something like: "Really...?"

He rattled on:

"Yeah - these guys are serious. I don't know why they even let them on the air. They've been all over the radio this morning - Angels this, Angels that. Why don't they just round them all up, send 'em back to the States?"

Me: "Er... are you talking about the Guardian Angels?"

"They're all murdering, druggy bastards"

Me: "Oh - er... they're not a biker gang. They're a volunteer security force - you know, the red berets, trained do-gooders - kind of vigilantes, but not in a bad way..."

"Bastards - lock them all up. Why let them speak on the radio? It's stupid. Stupid."

Me: "No, no - these are the good guys - really"

At about this point, the news came on the radio, prompting my driver to crank it up. Sure enough, the top story featured Curtis Sliwa interviewed about the Angels' attempts to launch a local chapter.

Despite the fact that the piece was broadly sympathetic to the Angels' cause, and featured Sliwa's comments about "helping people feel safe on the streets of Vancouver" and "supporting the work of the police", my cabbie was still inspired to vent and spue even more angrily about these "bastard Angels".

I spent the last 20 minutes of the cab ride doing everything I could to try to persuade the guy he was barking up the wrong tree - to no avail, I'm afraid.

If they're called Angels - whether they're good guys or bad - they're all bastards in his book. From his perspective, at least, the Guardian Angels clearly have a brand problem.

[Bonus, completely unrelated link: the headline to this post is just my lame, punning excuse to point to former Blink-182 frontman, Tom DeLonge's, exceptionally groovy new outfit of the same name. Check out their first single: The Adventure - currently filling the slot in my playlist reserved for songs with almost annoying but still utterly addictive squeaky/screechy noises in the background - formerly occupied by R.E.M.'s "Leave"]