If you can't be inside the Olympic Games, then follow Seattle Times producers, reporters, videographers and Olympic fans as we take you to the streets of Vancouver, B.C., to show you what's happening on the ground and give you a taste of the scene swirling around the 2010 winter games.
Day 1: Suspicious minivans, eager CoSport employees and juggling in the streets
Posted by Seattle Times staff
Submitted by Cynthia Bishop
This is my first Olympics. I am 43 years old. I did not know what to expect. For many, it seems to be one big party. Think Las Vegas. Think NY Times Square on New Year's Eve. Think Rio during Mardi Gras. Then amplify.
We arrived to Vancouver in the afternoon after a drive from Seattle in the mid-winter sun. We found crossing the border fairly easy. The college kids directly in front of us had a different experience. The border officers lifted every loose piece of carpet on that car and peered underneath it. The car passed.
The burly patrol officer looked up at our car. He nearly stifled a grin while waving our minivan to pass on through. It seems a 40s-something couple in a minivan with a child in the back poses no threat to national security. I made a note of this in case I ever decide to cross over to the dark side.
We were greeted in the lobby of the Sheraton by ebullient employees of CoSport. Their exuberance seemed directly related to the price we paid for our tickets. During the worst recession that I have personally experienced, the Olympics ticket distributor for the U.S. managed to charge an exorbitant rate with nary a shred of empathy. Our family chose to attend during a time when we needed to boost our spirits. The economy led us to a household move across state lines. Planning to attend the Olympics filled our need for a once-in-a-lifetime escape.
People asked if was difficult to get tickets. Not really. CoSport created "hospitality packages" of bundled tickets, meals, concerts, and hotel rooms. I spent over $700 per night for a room at the Sheraton Vancouver. The tickets for two events added another few thousand dollars. Later, I added a group of hockey tickets.
I rationalized this extravagance with the savings on airfare. Located in the Seattle area, we could easily drive to Vancouver. As February grew near, we arranged our favorite babysitters for our preschooler. My parents were happy to stay in our house during our trip. I purchased airfare for them from Texas to Washington.
We strolled Robson Street on our first evening. We sandwiched our 8-year-old in between us as if we were hired bodyguards fending off the paparazzi. Drunks stumbled the streets. Marijuana wafted through the air. Overhead, a zip line whirred by with indistinguishable arms and legs flapping around.
A variety of street entertainers drew crowds. A man juggled while teetering on scaffolding. A New Orleans-style drum band drowned out the two-person guitar players on the corner. Three men dressed as furry white Yetis posed for pictures with tourists while their bucket of dollars overflowed. Their expressions with tongues thrust forward, dirty costumes, and hands all over the willing tourists kept us walking. When with a child, the world is viewed differently.
The not-so-obvious was the most interesting. On a side street, we noticed three minivans parked next to the curb. These were the kind of non-descript minivans that a mother would drive to a soccer game. As we passed, we peered through the dark windows to see six men crowded inside a single van - each man almost comically too large for the seats. They were wearing police uniforms.
Back at our hotel, we dined in the lobby restaurant. Three large big screen TVs blasted the Olympic coverage. It seemed quiet in comparison to the outside. My husband watched curling. My 8-year-old picked at her French fries. I scanned the lobby for the "dignitaries" that were allegedly staying at our hotel. In my private time, I do secretly enjoy the celebrity gossip magazines. My search for a celebrity sighting went unfulfilled. Is dignitary different than celebrity?
By 10 p.m., we were in bed. Our room was on the 15th floor and five blocks from Robson. The 180-degree view entertained us with a light show and fireworks close by. About 30 minutes later, the local news televised the same show as "live" coverage. It was surreal to glance between the light show now on TV and the empty air outside my hotel room where the light show had been. The sounds of a party reached our room until I awoke at 6 a.m.
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