With a two-day break in my hectic event schedule, the weekend was intended as an opportunity to catch up on some sleep and recharge. But here in Vancouver, Olympic fever has its tendrils extended firmly across the entire city.
I wandered downtown into the belly of the Olympic beast to take in some of the many free Olympic-themed attractions across downtown Vancouver — which has been transformed into a giant pedestrian-only street party. The streets by the waterfront were thick with Olympic pin-traders plying their wares. I overheard one man desperately trying to track down an elusive Munich 1972 pin, but his hopes were dashed as the pin-festooned salesman shook his head and said, “I just sold it yesterday.”
Walking farther down along the waterfront, the Olympic cauldron came into view with its five-pointed flame. VANOC has come under intense criticism for the placement of the cauldron, as its location beside the International Media Centre necessitates surrounding the icon within the RCMP’s security perimeter behind a tall chain-link fence. To VANOC’s credit, the rabid complaints of fans were heard and a rooftop platform was hastily constructed, allowing fans to view the flame unobstructed from on high.
Unfortunately, like anything remotely associated with the Olympics in this city, the platform viewing area instantly attracted a massive crowd, causing the line to snake back for blocks. Not to be outdone, VANOC cut gaps in fence to permit clear photographing of the cauldron and has now replaced the chain-link with a transparent, plexiglass barrier that has been largely accepted as a reasonable compromise.
After snapping my obligatory photo with the cauldron, I turned down Granville Street and pushed through the throngs of people to Olympic ground-zero at Robson Square. On the way, I passed many examples of Vancouver’s most enduring Olympic feature: lineups. Want to view the medals on display at the Royal Canadian Mint? Three hour line. Feel like riding a zipline over Robson Square? Seven hour line. Need to spend some hard-earned cash on a t-shirt from the Olympic Mega Store? Be prepared to wait 45 minutes before you can even start browsing.
The following evening, I considered a return trip to Vancouver’s downtown, but learned over the radio that crowds had exceeded all expectations, jamming the streets with tens of thousands of Olympic revellers. In a bid to maintain some semblance of control, Vancouver Police ordered all liquor stores to close early in the evening to moderate the amount of alcohol currently flowing through the streets.
I opted for a change of pace and made my way to the city of Richmond’s suburban ode the Games, the Olympic O Zone. I shook my head in bewilderment as I passed a giant maple leaf hovering over the Olympic rings, constructed out of 13 million B.C. cranberries. I took in the finalists of the World Ice Carving Competition (with ice presumably having been imported, as I have yet to see any evidence of the frozen stuff other than on Whistler’s peak). I then killed 30 minutes in line waiting to ride a bobsled simulator, while listening to the band Marianas Trench perform live on the main stage. After an evening in Richmond, the O Zone festivities came across as decidedly minor league — the PanAm Games to Vancouver’s Olympics, as it were.
I closed off the evening by enjoying a beer to the crooners at a local karaoke bar and knocked off for the night eager to get back into the thick of events with the men’s two-man bobsleigh competition.
When not jetting around the world as his alter ego, The Crime Traveller, Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.