MODS: Feel free to move this to whatever forum this seems appropriate. I don't have posting privileges in the Live Blog forum. Also, an apology that this took two weeks to write. Once I got back here to Minnesota, I have been so busy the last ten days that I couldn't do it before now.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2010
8:15 AM PST
SCOTT ROAD PARK AND RIDE SKYTRAIN STATION
SURREY, BRITISH COLUMBIA
I have arrived at this park-and-ride in suburban Vancouver with no ticket, but a receipt saying that I have purchased a ticket for pickup downtown. I’m wearing a Minnesota State Fair sweatshirt to go along with the Team USA ballcap picked up in the Minneapolis airport. The marshal at the top of the escalator was checking to see if . Upon discovery that I was from Minnesota, the first thing he asked me was, “Is Brett Favre coming back?” Turns out there are a TON of Vikings fans spread out all over Canada, and when they found out I was from Minnesota, they all asked me about Brett Favre.
The marshal wrote me a fare waiver so I could get downtown, and I boarded the SkyTrain without further incident. Vancouver has a highly efficient subway system called the SkyTrain, and it can and does get a lot of people into/out of town in a hurry.
Before I arrive in town, a little bit of background on this trip. I got the itch to try this a couple of weeks ago, and by doing some fanangling with my trip dates, tickets, and car rental, I was able to pull it off for a lot less money than an Olympic trip would probably cost. Much of this cost savings was accomplished by flying into Seattle instead of Vancouver. I used the car to loaf around Seattle on Sunday the 14th, then visit a friend over at Gonzaga on Monday. From this I can verify that it’s a lot easier to drive westbound across Washington State than eastbound. Since I left Everett at such an unholy hour of the morning (5:30 AM PST), there was no one to hold me up at the border.
But back to the Frozen White North. On the way into town, a lady wearing one of the ubiquitous blue jackets that the volunteers wear sat down next to me. Turns out she was one of the volunteers who was headed for the Garage to keep stats. I joked that it must have been quite a process to get that gig. She was not joking when she affirmed my observation. When pressed on the subject, she confirmed that it was a multiple-interview, several-month epic journey to become an Olympic volunteer.
I needed to pick up my ticket, so instead of going directly to the Garage I opted to try the Main Ticket Plaza in Robson Square. Robson Square is the heart of downtown Vancouver (Stanley Park may beg to differ). The first thing I noticed is the crowds. I don’t mind dealing with big crowds at the State Fair, but this was at EIGHT IN THE MORNING. If the sidewalks are this crowded at 8 AM, imagine what they’re going to be after nightfall.
The first look at the line outside the Robson Square ticket office is enough to make a starving man lose his appetite. The line is a block long, and a marshal with a snappy British accent is telling us that the wait from here is going to be two and a half hours, and that’s once the ticket office opens at nine.
I decide to go down the street and try my luck at the Olympic Superstore, which is located on the ground floor of the Hudson’s Bay Company store on Granville and Georgia. The Bay is much like the massive Daytons/Marshall Fields/Macy’s department store in downtown Minneapolis, except that a large portion of the ground floor has been cordoned off solely for Olympic stuff, and it has a separate entrance. The line to get into the store was to the end of the block, around the corner, and doubled back on itself. Beginning to see a trend here?
It’s getting to be 9:30, so I decide to get my ticket from the box office near GM Place. I follow the crowds down to the massive fenced complex of BC Place and the Garage. VANOC has turned the area immediately surrounding the two facilities into a portable prison, complete with dogs, armed guards, and concertina wire. Confused crowds end up having to go to the clear other side of the perimeter and down four flights of stairs to get to the security checkpoint and ticket office.
The line for will call was quite long, but what few people noticed was that there were pickup windows on BOTH sides of the ticket box. I take advantage of this and walk right up to a window. My ticket for the hockey game was right there, so I went over to the security station next to the ticket window.
Al Michaels made note of this in the closing ceremony telecast. While VANOC spent an astronomical amount of money on security, outside of the security checkpoints and the razor wire fences, you never really noticed their presence around town. As for getting through the security checkpoints, you could get a lot more stuff through here than you could past the rent-a-cops at the New Brickhouse. Tons of flags, flag poles, noisemakers, cowbells, and other assorted stuff. One guy cheering for Switzerland brought in a bell the size of a gallon milk jug.
Which brings me to my next point: Outside of Madison, Wisconsin, I have never seen so much red and white in one place in my life. Between the Swiss fans, who aren’t all THAT numerous but cheer as loud as hell, and the Canucks, there are TONS of it in the streets, in the bars, and the arenas. However, all fans were loud and proud. Wherever you were from, you weren’t afraid to show it.
Going from the security checkpoint into the Garage was a trek. Over a footbridge, then up four more flights of stairs to the upper-deck entrance to the arena.
Canada Hockey Place (aka GM Place or the Garage to other fans of teams in the Northwest Division) is the main arena for ice hockey for these Games. It’s a bit different for Olympic hockey to be played on an NHL-sized sheet (85 feet wide instead of the Olympic-sized 100 feet), but not being a hockey guy I couldn’t tell you all of the similarities or differences. The arena itself is the last of the generation of arenas to be designed pre-Xcel Energy Center, which means that the concourses are way too crowded and you are relying on the TVs to keep up on the action in the arena. It feels very similar to an updated version of the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Concessions were their standard overpriced arena fare. Beer cost CDN 8 for 12 fluid ounces of either Coors or Molson. Drinking fountains were either disabled or removed. I did find a chicken flatbread sandwich for CDN 9 that I thought was a fair deal.
My seats were in Row 12 at the end of the arena. Great folks sitting to either side of me. Right before the opening faceoff, a group of 8 crazily-dressed Swiss fans filed into the row in front of me. I mean, these fans were dressed to the nines. A big flag, facepaint, huge wigs, and even red bathrobes that had large “SUI” embroidered in the back. The in-arena host came up there during the first intermission and interviewed them.
I had also never realized just how cumbersome announcements are in Canada, given that everything has to be said in both English and French. Stupid Quebecois. The game itself was great. The Americans were flat for most of the first, but came out blazing in the second and held on in the 3rd. All fans (there were plenty of non-USA or Swiss fans in the building) were cheering loud and long from wire to wire.
Leaving the arena, it was clear that Canada was scheduled to play in the second game at the Garage by the sea of red and white going down towards the security checkpoint. There was also hockey taking place at the University of British Columbia across town, but I didn’t get out there.
After the game was over, I headed back into the downtown core to soak up some more of the atmosphere. The line at Olympic Superstore at The Bay hasn’t gone down any, so I go around to the main entrance to the store. I see signs for some “International Pavillion” up on the 5th floor, so I decide to go up there. Surprise, surprise! All of the Team Canada stuff that was behind the barrier downstairs is for sale up here, with much less crowds. There’s also some other stuff for sale up here. There are T-shirts with old Olympic logos on them (Calgary, Montreal, and Sapporo seemed to be solid sellers), as well as a MASSIVE display of Team Russia and Sochi 2014 gear. I bet if you went up there today (Monday, March 1, 2010), you could get some non-Canadian gear REALLY cheap. Quite frankly, if it wasn’t Canadian, it wasn’t selling.
About a block down Robson Street was the CTV broadcast pavilion. They are the Canadian TV rights-holders, and their pavilion was showing some snowboarding or snowcross or whatever from Cypress Mountain. It was here that I saw Canada win their second gold medal of the Games. The crowd went absolutely ballistic when the commentator said this. An impromptu version of “O Canada” broke out, and it sent me scrambling for a ticket into that night’s medal ceremony.
The line at the Robson Square is still astronomical, so I hustle as quickly as I can down to the Garage/BC Place ticket office, where I picked up my hockey ticket earlier in the day. Fate decided to forcefully intervene. One ticket was left for that night’s medal ceremony in BC Place. While the clerk was processing the request, said ticket vanished. That was a kick in the pants that stayed with me for a while, but would pale in comparison with other ticket agony I would learn about later in the day.
With that disappointment in hand, it was off to the waterfront to see what could be seen. Having been there in August of 2008, I was reasonably familiar with the layout of the waterfront. By this time, the sun had come out and the skies had cleared, which meant that Vancouver was at its full scenic glory.
What was not scenic, however, was the staggering amount of chain link fence, fabric barrier tied to the chain link, and concertina wire. I can understand the IBC/Canada Place not being open to the public, but using the full prison-style fence around the large cauldron? For shame. The crowd along the fence was thick with people sticking the lens of their cameras through the fence. However, where you could get down to the water, it was just as gorgeous as I remember it being.
By this time, I needed to briefly head back to Scott Road and the car. Both pairs of rechargeable batteries that I had brought with me were completely dead, and I needed a quick respite before going back to town for the evening session. On the way out on the SkyTrain, there was a place near a station (which one I can’t remember offhand) that sold cheap pizza. Two big slices and a pop for CDN 5. It was all right, but the crust tasted more like a pretzel than it did proper pizza dough.
While on the train back into downtown, I was talking with a dad and his two boys from Ottawa. Apparently, earlier in the day, VANOC had cancelled 28,000 standing-room tickets at Cypress Mountain. This dad and his kids were among those ticket holders affected. They had taken the money from those and bought tickets for the late Russia-Latvia hockey game that night. Surprisingly, tickets for that game were almost as hot as the Canada-Norway game earlier in the day, and when I thought about it, it made some sense. Playing for the Caps, Ovechkin doesn’t get out to this end of Canada more than once every other season, and the experience hockey fans of Canada wanted to see what he was made of.
The evening session restarted by going into Downtown LiveCity. LiveCity is a site where they show the CTV feed of all the live action going on around town that day. The two LiveCity sites near downtown were jammed to the gunnels during the Canada hockey game. I got to the security line just right after the game got done, and people were streaming out of there cheering for Canada, waving the flag, and carrying on. Inside the LiveCity, there were a couple of things. One was Manitoba House, which was nothing more than a glorified Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce display. Canada House was there too, and I’ll get there in a minute. There was also a big food and drink tent.
They showed the medal ceremonies live at the LiveCity. I was kind of glad that I hadn’t expended any more money on trying to get medal ceremony tickets, because I wanted to see a ceremony that featured a Canadian winning a gold medal. However, an American was awarded a gold medal this night, and there were a few of us belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner” outside the tents. I watched the rest of the ceremony from inside the food and drink tent.
Once the medal ceremonies were done, I headed over to check out Canada House. The Canucks did a very nice job here, showing off what they were trying to do (Own the Podium) while being complimentary to all of Canada. There were two other attractions there on this particular evening. One was a mock torch, so you could take a picture with you “carrying the Olympic torch.” The other was Lord Stanley’s Cup. Yes, THE Stanley Cup. The line to get pictures with the Cup was actually not too long, only about 20 minutes. I was in line behind a couple of volunteer medics from Regina, and they were grousing about how they were losing their shirts on the deal.
I then got my picture taken with both an Olympic torch, and the Stanley Cup. I’m not a hockey guy, but that was pretty awesome.
After all of this excitement around the Cup, I decided to finally brave the line over at the Olympic Superstore. The line had not shrank in length at all since I arrived downtown at 9 AM, but it moved surprisingly fast. I was inside the store in less than 5 minutes. Here is where they had the official Games-logo apparel, and that was worth waiting for. I picked up a couple of postcards, as well as a very high-quality hoodie (or as they call them up there, popovers). At CDN 40, I had no qualms about the buy. Also, HBC must be used to outfitting slightly larger Canadians. American 2XL hoodies can be quite small, but I’m drowning in it.
While at the Olympic Superstore, I engaged in a bit of the Olympic sport of pin-trading. I have no idea how or why this trend started, but I was able to slightly increase my pin count by bartering away some pins I bought at the BC Peace Arch Welcome Center.
By this time it was 10:30 PM, and I’d had my fill. Fortunately the SkyTrain station is embedded within The Bay store, and I hopped right on the train back out to Scott Road Park and Ride. Good Lord, was I tired! After getting across the border, what should have been a 1:10-1:20 drive back to Everett stretched into almost three, as I stopped multiple times to take short naps. I’m still not sure how I got back there.
It’s going to be a long time before the Olympics are going to take place in a location that doesn’t require an 8-hour flight and uber-expensive accommodations to attend. It’s that logic that brought me to the Pacific Northwest and up to Vancouver. They did a great job making an unforgettable experience. The fans from al over the world were great, and I hope to see another Olympics again in my lifetime.