The Accidental Yank at the Olympic Opening

The Accidental Yank at the Olympic Opening

Cubs or White Sox? It's all the same to me

I'm an atypical Chicagoan. Though I live a short 7-minute walk from Soldier Field, I've never gone to a game there, or frankly even wanted to in the iconic stadium.

I plead overload. On a high school drill team in Houston TX in the straight-laced 1960s, I had my fill of Friday night football and state-champion basketball games. Yet when my adult daughter living in the UK won FOUR literally golden tickets for the Olympic Opening ceremonies--and kindly offered two of the tickets to her biological parent-units--well, duh. I did what any one would and said, yes PLEASE!

The Olympic Lottery in the UK

It all began in April 2011. "Mom," asked my daughter one unusually bright sunny day in Esher. "I know you love to be in Chicago in the summers, but would you and Dad come back next summer for the Olympics?"

Unhesitatingly I said, "You betcha!" She was shocked. "YOU? Miss-I-don't-do-sports?"

Terrifying how she gets me. As she said the day after the Olympic opening as we were talking, "Mom, just say blahblahblah...and I'll know what you're going to say." Egad.

But as I told her why I'd go to the Olympics, I do experiences. One-offs. Those happenstance opportunities that fall in your lap, like the day in 1970 at Houston's Hobby Airport when someone asked me, "Will you hold this sign and come this way?" Looking up I saw "Welcome John Wayne." You betcha. So it was that I got to be within spitting distance of the not-as-tall-as-I-imagined actor.

Back to 2011 in the UK. Our daughter Jennie is part Jack Russell terrier, only with natural curlier hair. Maybe that's why she is such a super successful salesperson. So when she didn't win the opportunity to buy her first choice tickets to Olympic events in the UK lottery system used to sell the tickets, she didn't give up as some did. She tried again. The second time around she won the opportunity to buy tickets to women's basketball, football (a.k.a. soccer) and women's beach volleyball. To put it in the local lingo, we were over the moon in anticipation.

Then one morning, using her beloved Pantene shampoo, Jennie had an epiphany. The bottle flogged a contest to WIN FOUR tickets to the Olympic Opening ceremonies. A busy mother of two working a more than part-time job, she thought, bollocks. No one ever wins those. But something niggled in her brain to spend the valued 3 minutes to enter the sweeps.

The call came from over the pond in that excitedly adolescent voice we rarely hear, "Mom, I WON four tickets to the OPENING! Pantene RULES!" A very American whoo-hoo, followed.

Olympic Park or BUST

So it came to pass on Friday, July 28 with a sitter booked till 2:30 AM, we left at 3:30 PM to walk to the Esher Train Station to take a SouthWest Train into London Waterloo. Walking to the station, an uncharacteristically friendly local cyclist heading towards us cried "Off to the opening?" Nodding, she responded, "Have a FAB time." Wow. Mittens in his posh digs never would have the opportunity to get the street feeling of ebullience in the streets of Greater London.

We didn't get far on that first train. At Wimbledon we had to exit the train, told to take the next train. Signaling failure in Waterloo, they said. With the temperatures in the high 70s and Chicago summer sticky, we stiffened our lips and sweated on the platform uncomplainingly. For this is England, a land that prides itself on resilience, which is one of the 6 Rs taught at my 5-year-old grandson's state-run school. So we kept calm and carried on, fortuitously able to hop on the next train to Waterloo and even--get a seat. At that point we made walked down in the belly of London into the Jubilee Tube (subway) line to head east to Stratford. Once again had to get off the tube midway to change trains. Given the expected crush of humanity trying to enter the Park at the main entry at Stratford, we last minutely decided to alight one stop before and walk 25 minutes to the alternative entry gate. Bright smiling faces greeted us everywhere, volunteers all--as we wended our way through the green area trailing behind two Kiwis from New Zealand with their country flag draped like a cape on their backs.

At the alternative entry gate there was no line. Staffed with smiling soldiers, it was friendlier and less onerous than the TSA in the USA. My spring loaded runners set off the scanner--I was politely frisked as I said, whoops. The shoes. The young woman soldier smiled back at me, yep. The shoes. "Have a lovely time Madam." We were in. The 24.4 miles voyage had taken us about 2 hours.

The Olympic Opening Happening

The Olympic Park site is massive, a reported 500 acres. With six decades of tourism under my belt, it felt bigger than other sites I'd encountered. Bigger than the Seattle World's Fair, or Hemisphere in San Antonio; bigger even than Disney. A diversity of wild flowers exploded everywhere with color. Even the garden crazy Brits commenting on their loveliness. Potty parity was definitely a consideration, with my husband commenting it was hard to find the men's given the women's were more numerous. HA! At last, I thought.

With all those calories burned walking, we did what the locals do and  headed to a non-branded drinks line for a pint of draft lager or ale in recyclable plastic cup.McDonald's is the only OFFICIAL food vendor, so we looked at the other offerings. Giant Cornish pasties sounded just right, a savory turnover filled with either veg or steak and large enough for an entire meal. VISA may be the proud sponsor of the Olympics, but VISA US magnetic stripe cards were not read by the machinery at either the food vendors or large Olympic gear shops. There was no problem using the chip-security VISA cards commonly found over here.

Entering the Olympic Stadium venue about 7:30 PM felt like a privilege--like going to the White House or playing The Palace. What percentage of the world's humanity have a front row seat to the greatest happening of the year? Our P &G gifted seats--with a retail value of 1000 pounds each--were a marvel on the 50 yard line, directly opposite where QE2 and other big shots on the other side of the stadium. Square electronic light paddles were pre-set in slots before each seat and each area had a volunteer to instruct us when/how to use them. We also were rehearsed to sing "I'm forever blowing bubbles" when our turn came. We weren't there just to watch like a passive viewer, but to participate in the show. No automaton Olympic opening like Beijing's, this Olympic opening would be as individualistic as the English in this melting pot of the world.

Though a few Brits had Union Jack flags painted on their cheeks or were dressed in Union Jack fabric clothing, the Beau Brummel award for over-the-top flag-wearing wear clearly went to the Americans. A few rows ahead of us a rather loud American in a screaming loud US flag shirt noting our accents, shared his celebrity ID coup that Al Roker was seated nearby. We didn't want to be rude, so didn't stare. Our American next repeatedly stood up to practice his flag waving skills--blocking the view of we behind him. How very American. Like the puppy who unthinkingly jumps up with muddy feet on the lady in the white pants suit we just can't seem to share nicely common space.  Though the Chinese contingent before us were silent to the American's act, Mr. American soon folded his two flags and pole away under his seat.

At 8:12 PM the UK history lesson to the world began. From the spectacle of an idyllic England, the era of legend in BBC dramas: with May poles and wheat harvests, cricket on the green only interrupted by by a cuppa, and buttons and bonnets. On the tellys inside the stadium Danny Boyle--artistic director of the show--thanked the tens of thousand volunteers saying, "I don't believe in God but I believe in the people who do...." --a statement that brought a roar of approval from the crowd. Next came Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the UN, with a call for the people of the world to lay down their weapons. The swords into plowshares sentiment seeming a most appropriate reminder given the entire Olympic opening event was built on land that had been scoured to smithereens by bombing in WW2. Another moment of support from the crowd in a war weary world.

Approaching 9 PM, we in the audience performed for you at home what was termed the "sea silk manoevre". Passing a blue silky canopy over our heads and the countdown to the real show began. Very interactive, we in the audience felt not only a part of the multinational crowd but of humanity at its best. The humanity who work for the betterment of all. Kenneth Branagh's speech from The Tempest was most apropos given the fear of some attendees. Be not afeared it confidently assured those who questioned the safety of attending such a high-profile event (including some who shall remain nameless who called his brother almost a dozen times zones away to remind him where the will was located.) The Industrial Revolution cleared the pastoral set and brought forth the Olympic rings.

Eccentricity--that most English characteristic along with self-deprecation--was on full view as James Bond's latest incarnation accompanied QE2 on her virtual sky diving jump into the stadium. That copyright law can feed the future was reminded by JM Barrie's gift of the copyright to Peter Pan to support the work of GOSH (Great Ormond St. Hospital) with its dancing nurses and bouncing babes--- a Valentine to the NHS--the health service the English love to hate, while rubbing it in the noses of the over-paying for healthcare Americans. What did FOX News say about that, I wondered.

Speaking of evil, JK Rowling's Voldemort was given his full of hot air comeuppance by the always reliable English nanny, Mary Poppins. Was that the puppet your friend was working on I wondered, having had a conversation at a toy shop with a clerk whose friend was involved in the show, who then told me it was a secret.

Through the Dr Who time vortex the British history lesson zoomed on with music and dancing, a lot of dancing--but hey, this was the UKs biggest house party! Bend it like Beckham's David Beckham--said to be too old for the football team--speedboated the Olympic torch to the stadium.

It was then that the focus was turned back on to what the Olympics are supposed to be about, the athletes. Offstage we later were told by another volunteer, were lines of children cheering the all of the athletes as they enter the stadium. It was now past the 10 PM bedtime hour of my family of larks. Given it would take an hour and half to get through the alphabet of the world's countries--the lateness of the hour why half of Team GB would not walk the track--with a quick vote, we four opted to leave at the moment Denmark took the field. Rather funny given we've been addicted to their series The Forbrydelsen (The Killing). Off for our almost 2-hour walk, tube, sprint to train and cab ride home, we were back in Esher before Sir Paul sang or lipsync'd the finale.

 

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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