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More Dogs on Main Street

It’s hard to imagine that our Olympics were four years ago. In some ways, it still seems so fresh, and in others, it seems like it was something from high school or before. The Games open in Turin next week, with a large contingent of local athletes competing. I’ve known some of them since they were born and the Games will have a special interest this time around with that connection. There isn’t quite the local buzz about the Olympics I had expected. Maybe we’re still in that post-Sundance stupor, trying to get the kitchen restocked and caught up on all the Main Street errands we put off.

I got my hair cut the other day. I’ve been going to the same barbershop in Salt Lake forever (my hair hasn’t fallen out, but I’m not taking any chances). We got talking about the Olympics. One of the barbers had a pack of pictures he had taken before and during the Games. Salt Lake never looked better. The building wraps on the office towers were just great. There was a speed skater that looked like he was about to come flying down Second South, and a figure skater on the LDS Church Office tower who seemed to have the whole building spinning. Those two stood out, but there were several, and the change in the city was huge. He had driven out to the far west side of Salt Lake and taken a shot of the medals plaza with the Olympic rings on the mountain behind.

Locally, the thing I remember best about this stage of things was the security. The country was still very much on edge over the 9/11 attacks, and there was a palpable fear that we were becoming a magnet for trouble instead of the mid-sized backwater that nobody east of Denver could place on the map. There were busloads of soldiers packing automatic weapons and nests of machine gun-equipped SWAT teams hidden around on the mountains. I remember skiing down Perseverance Bowl at Deer Valley and having a Black Hawk helicopter suddenly rise out of the woods with missiles pointed my direction. "It’s just me!"

Everything was focused on preparations, and the tourist traffic was down to about zero prior to the games. The ski resorts had an eerie quiet about them. When there was somebody else on the chair with me, they "worked for the government," and had large bulges under their coats. The week before, the security presence was almost oppressive as they trained and practiced responses to different things that could happen. Once the event opened up, they faded into the woods and were barely seen, but that week before was an occupation force.

Aside from terrorist attacks, the biggest concern was traffic and parking. Everybody I know was hoarding parking passes from whatever business they could cadge one out of. I ended up with a dashboard full of them. The irony was that the shuttles from the big Home Depot lot were so good that it was actually easier to park there and take the bus to the event than drive into town and take advantage of local knowledge and the parking pass. Except if I went skiing. On the non-event days, the resorts were deserted, and I could drive right up to the base of the lifts with no problems.

Just before things got rolling, we had a cold snap, with temperatures well below zero. I remember Frank Bell telling me that he woke up in the middle of the night, wondering just what kind of anti-freeze all those old buses borrowed from Texas and California might have in them. There was a sense of panic that the whole transportation plan would collapse because somebody forgot to check the anti-freeze level in warm-weather buses. In the end, I think there were a dozen or so that they never could get started because the diesel fuel wasn’t winter blend and set up like Jell-O, but otherwise, things worked.

The whole deal with the torch had always seemed overdone to me. The logistics on it were complicated, expensive, and in the end, the torch covered most of its journey from the prior Olympics in the cargo hold of a jet with the eternal flame very much turned off. But when it arrived in Park City, I somehow had to go stand there in the cold and watch as it came up the street. That turned out to be one of the great events of the whole thing. It was a big locals’ party on Main Street — Miners’ Day in February. For the first time, all the anxiety of the preparations fell away and there was a sense that this is really going to happen, and it is going to work.

That was followed by the nightly international scene on Main Street throughout the games, but that day the torch came to town still stands out as the day we all knew it was going to be a huge success. Watching on TV, downtown Salt Lake looked so vibrant that I had to get in the car and see if for myself. For 10 days, it was one of the most exciting cities in the world (and at the stroke of midnight on 11th, it turned back into a pumpkin).

So I’m really looking forward to the Olympics again. It’s not because I enjoy watching ski racing, which frankly is about as boring as watching golf, though there is that NASCAR potential for mayhem. I’m not all that interested in whether Bode Miller skis his races drunk or sober. I’ll be cheering for Joe Pack and Ted Ligety and Brett and Eric Camerota, the twins in the Nordic combined (whatever that is). But what I will really be watching is the whole event, sharing in that spark that ignited Salt Lake and Park City for 10 days. Those were some great times.


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