A Mexican standoff Whistler style 

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In the final scene of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, the film's two main protagonists, Jules and Vincent are eating breakfast in a diner that appeared a little over an hour-and-a-half earlier in the film's opening sequence. Jules is trying to explain why he's retiring from thuggery to an uncomprehending Vincent who, perhaps in an attempt to digest this turn of events, retires to the men's room.

While he's indisposed, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny spring into action, guns drawn, and proceed to hold up the diner's patrons. When Pumpkin gets around to Jules, he's met not with the acquiescence expected, but instead with the working end of Jules' chrome-plated 9mm pistol, an irrefutable argument that convinces Pumpkin to distance himself from his own piece. Honey Bunny understandably turns her gun on Jules and is, in turn, drawn on by Vincent who has emerged from the men's room to find chaos where formerly only breakfast was happening.

Thus established, we have one of Mr. Tarantino's favourite plot devices — the Mexican standoff.

The etymology of the term Mexican standoff is a bit murky and not meant to imply any cultural disrespect as used in this context. I could no more disrespect Mexicans than I could resist a well-made tamale. Perhaps in Mexico the same dynamic is called an American standoff, much as Dutch Treat is known in the rest of the world as American Style.

The Mexican standoff is one of Mr. Tarantino's favourite scenes. It formed the tense climax in his first film, Reservoir Dogs. As opposed to the diner scene, where everybody walks away peacefully, in the standoff between Joe, Mr. Orange, Mr. White, and Eddie no one escapes uninjured or dead.

Which is pretty much what happens after the Mexican standoff scene in the tavern in Inglorious Basterds. Once you've drunk from that well, it's hard not to return.

Reduced to its basics, a Mexican standoff describes an altercation between three, armed opponents. Player 1 draws down on Player 2 who in turn draws down on Player 1. If that were all there was to it, the first to shoot, assuming decent aim, wins. But enter Player 3 who aims, usually, at Player 1. Different dynamic. Now Player 3 has the advantage and, though aligned with Player 2, can only win at his/her sacrifice.

Variations abound but the outcomes are limited. Everyone walks away — boring — one survives or none survive. Whichever way it plays out, the Mexican standoff is to tension and suspense what a fart is to comedy: a surefire winner.

We seem to have our own mutant version of the Mexican standoff right here in Tiny Town over the fate and efficacy of Whistler Health Care Centre's heliport.

Holding two guns and wearing bulletproof armour is Transport Canada. In a disguise looking very much like Inspector Javert from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Transport Canada is resolute in its conviction that, "... the law is the law is the law." Apparently ignorant of the old adage about the law being, occasionally, an ass, Transport Canada insists its one-size-fits-all rules governing the heliport be met to the strictest letter of the law. Whether the heliport is, say, on the roof of Vancouver General in all the density of downtown Vancouver, or here in Tiny Town with all the density of a forest, both must meet the rules as promulgated and enforced by Transport Canada itself.

Javert seems an appropriate character. He is merciless in his discharge of duty. His, "...sincerity, candor, conviction, the sense of duty, are things which may become hideous when wrongly directed... they are virtues which have one vice, — error." It matters not to Transport Canada's sense of duty that in all its years of operation not a single head has been chopped off, nor has there been a single helicopter crash onto an unsuspecting pedestrian or vehicle while landing at WHCC. It matters not that the strict interpretation of its rules put real lives at risk. The law is the law is the law.

With one gun aimed at Vancouver Coastal Health, which "owns" WHCC, and one aimed squarely at the RMOW — and, by extension, everyone who finds themselves in need of emergency medical evacuation in Whistler — Transport Canada isn't about to blink.

Meanwhile, VCH has its gun squarely aimed at the RMOW... at least when it isn't aimed at its own foot. VCH spent millions of dollars over the past few years ineptly upgrading the heliport. It thinks it's working just fine, notwithstanding the fact single-engine choppers can't land there and single-engine choppers are, by far, the bulk of the fleet employed in helivacs. It has been said VCH doesn't really care how patients arrive, only what happens to them once there. It claims to be waiting on the RMOW to take the next step toward getting single-engine status.

The RMOW has its gun aimed at VCH, though it's not entirely clear whether the gun is loaded. It claims they've already identified the trees that need to be cut down, or topped, to meet Transport Canada's requirements for single-engine certification and it's just waiting on VCH to get the ball rolling. After all, this is an issue between VCH and Transport Canada.

If Transport Canada is Javert, the RMOW and VCH might seem a bit like Dumb and Dumber, though the latter might qualify for the upgraded role of Dumbest.

Transport Canada allows the heliport to operate at all because of a patchwork operating protocol that stops traffic whenever a chopper lands. Since the invisible signs and confusing lights didn't do the trick initially, and since VCH doesn't have any dedicated personnel to run out and stop traffic, and since the RCMP and Whistler Fire Department often have more pressing matters, it is often the Whistler Blackcomb parking and roads crew who step up. No one wants to talk about what happens when they're not around... which is most of the year.

VCH likes to trot out statistics to buttress its, "What, me worry?" attitude. After all, there's only one patient per week that has to be transported from the municipal helipad north of Emerald to WHCC. Perhaps so, but inconveniently, those 52 injured people don't space their mishaps out over 52 weeks. Most happen during ski season. And if any of the three standoffees think that delay doesn't matter here's what I suggest. Get in a chopper. When you fly over WHCC start holding your breath. Keep holding it while you fly to the muni heliport, get transferred into an ambulance and hold it some more while you're driven to WHCC. That wasn't so bad, was it?

Sadly, this standoff is probably going to take a real, flesh and blood body count to resolve itself. Sadder still, the full impact of that is going to land on Whistler, not Transport Canada, not VCH, not the RMOW.

Well, that's not very entertaining, is it?



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