There was this trip I took with Carrie one time, I will never forget it. We took the train up to Vancouver to see the Olympics, only we didn’t actually have tickets to any of the events. We just wanted to be there, in the city where it was happening. “There’ll be so many people there,” Carrie said, “from all around the world! We’ll be right there with them!” Me, I don’t know the first thing about winter sports. Or most sports in general. Frankly, I don’t care about ’em. I don’t think Carrie knew anything about them, either. We just wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.
So we rode the train up, and the whole time I’m thinking, What are we gonna do there? For two days and one night. I mean, seriously. Just walk around and people watch all day? I had to admit, that wasn’t really my idea of good time, but it could’ve been worse. I could’ve been at work, so yeah, doing this was better. I just wasn’t too hot about it. I stared out the window at the gray sky and the swans in the fields. Big and white—they may have been geese, who knows. I looked over at Carrie, who was reading a magazine. “Hey, so when we get there, we’re gonna check in to the hotel and then just walk around, right?” I asked. She looked up and nodded. “Yep. I don’t have any place in particular I want to go. Do you? I sort of wanted to just wander the city, just take it in, you know? Is there something in particular you want to do?” I shook my head. “Nope. Whatever you want to do, that works for me.” She smiled and went back to her magazine. I turned toward the window again. It looked like it might snow, maybe. I didn’t know how cold it was, but the clouds sure looked heavy, hanging low over the fields. I just hoped it didn’t rain.
After we found our hotel and dropped off our bags, we just started walking. We were in downtown, and man, it was crazy, let me tell you. There were people everywhere. From everywhere, too, it seemed. It was crowded. I must’ve heard half a dozen languages being spoken every block or so. But that was Vancouver for you. It wasn’t until we saw the huge banners on the buildings, the ones with the faces of Olympic hopefuls three stories tall, that we started to get that Olympian vibe. Of course, I didn’t recognize any of them. Neither did Carrie. They were just these huge pictures of fresh-faced Canadians wearing helmets and spandex and stuff. It was like a big party downtown—you got that sense from the decorations all over. There were these makeshift art displays on every corner, really colorful sculptures and other things that looked sort of temporary. The Asians were taking pictures of it all—but that’s Vancouver for you, too. Walking up Robson, which was blocked off to street traffic, the air smelled like fried onions and roasting peanuts and kettle corn, and I could hear street musicians playing. The music was being played so close together, it all became a jumble of sounds. It was crazy. “Let’s walk to Stanley Park,” Carrie said after a while. “I wanna maybe take a break from this for a little while.” I thought that was a great idea. The park would be quieter, probably. “Yeah, okay. Let’s go to the park.” She put her arm through mine and we weaved through the crowd.
When we got to the waterfront these two older guys approached us, smiling. They were wearing press badges and both had cameras with the telescoping lens. The taller one, a pale guy with reddish hair and an even redder beard, said, “Hey, you two interested in seeing an event? We’ve got tickets but we’re double-booked.” He held up his camera. “We’re covering another event, so we can’t use these two. It’s women’s speed skating, by the way.” I looked at Carrie. She nodded, wide-eyed. “Uh…how much?” I asked. The shorter one laughed. “We can’t sell them. It would be unethical, seeing as how we got them for free. So they’re yours.” He handed me the tickets. “But you guys need to get moving. It starts in an hour, and it’s at the Richmond Olympic Oval. That’s all the way across town. You’ll need to take the monorail, and quick.” “Oh!” said Carrie. “Wow…I mean, thank you! Which way is the monorail from here?” They pointed to a station a block away. “Go for it! And enjoy!” They waved and hurried off. We ran to the station and hopped on. “What a crazy thing,” Carrie said, as we sat down. “Yeah, no kidding,” I said. Women’s speed skating? What the hell was that? I studied the ticket. Gate C, section 107, seats 45 and 46. Each ticket was priced at ninety-seven dollars. “Look how much these cost, Carrie.” I showed her. “Wow! That’s expensive! Good thing we’re getting in for free.” I looked at the ticket again. “I hope it’s not boring. I mean, I know we’re getting in for free and all, but I don’t wanna sit there and be bored.” Carrie seemed doubtful. “It’s speed skating, so they’re going fast, right? It should be fun to watch.”
Speed skating, as it turned out, happens to be one of the most mind-numbingly dull sports to spectate. I mean, my God, these women were just skating in a line around a track for a few laps, taking turns drafting behind one another. Each finish was anti-climactic. You could see which team would win from a mile away. And it was freezing inside the arena, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, I guess. But still. It was cold and boring. “I’m glad we didn’t pay for these tickets,” I said to Carrie. “If I was gonna throw down a hundred bucks to watch an event, it sure as hell wouldn’t have been this.” Carrie was watching the race. She gave a slow nod. “Yeah…I think you’re right.” We left before the final race and took the monorail back into the city. We walked to an Indian place for some dinner. “I can’t get over how we got those tickets for free,” she said. “I mean, yeah, it was pretty boring, but still! We saw an event at the Olympics! We were a part of it. How cool is that?” I thought so, too. “Yeah, it was pretty cool. Nice of those guys to give them to us.” It was fine. I didn’t really care, but it felt like we had done something, which was something, I guess. Carrie said, “Hey, let’s go back to the hotel for a little bit, maybe grab a drink at the bar.” I couldn’t argue with that, no way.
In the hotel Carrie kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed, on top of the covers. I undid my laces, but decided to keep mine on. “Whew, we’ve been walking all day,” she said, stretching luxuriantly. “You wanna come lie down for a bit?” I had been thinking really hard on the scotch I would be ordering down at the bar, really yearning for it, and so I told her as much. “If I lie down, I’m just gonna get tired,” I said. I wasn’t sure if that was true, but I said it, anyway. She looked at me and made a pouting face. “Oh, all right. I bet I could use a drink, too,” she said at last. She got up slowly, reluctantly, it seemed. I was already tying my laces back up. I don’t know why, but I felt ansty, I guess.
Down at the bar we sat and watched the Olympics coverage. Today had been the last day, and all the shows were talking about rankings and highlights and all that. I was deep into my third scotch when this video montage came on. “Carrie, look at this.” I pointed at the screen. It showed a series of Olympians in the throes of victory, their faces triumphant, jubilant, incredulous. There were lots of slow-motion shots, really beautiful stuff, and the music was, I don’t really know how else to say this, it was inspirational. It was just a barrage of happiness, one athletic face after another. It was weird, but this montage got to me. I can’t explain it. I don’t give a damn about the Olympics, but when I saw those people crying with sheer joy, just so goddamned happy about what they had done, I almost wanted to cry, too.