I was woken up Friday morning by the thunder of helicopters echoing off the buildings and rattling the window next to my bed – fortunately I wasn’t in some sort of Hunter S Thompson bad-acid Vietnam flashback (sorry, i’m currently reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to get in the right frame of mind for our Snowboard like a Rockstar magazine trip to LA in March). The Olympic flame was in town, and the choppers were catching all the action in downtown Van…and when I got out on the street it was packed, and the real Olympic spirit (not my manufactured, barstool one) had finally hit.
Thursday had been a great first day in town, checking out the massive MPC (Main Press Centre) and picking up my free kit, as well as running into Dan Himbrechts. Check his blog here for some more shots of pre-Olympic Vancouver. It was a busy night, first up with a ritzy reception by the AOC to introduce the Australian Team, and announce Torah as the flag-bearer. Well done, Torah! I knew how these things go, so while everyone was dressed in their semi-formal attire and on best behaviour, I, in my t-shirt and jeans headed straight for the bar and the food buffet to get the most of my tax dollars. Some snowboarders may scoff at the idea of being an Olympian, but I couldn’t help but get a real sense of excitement and pride from the “athletes” representing Australia. More than any other moment, I wanted to be up there with them, part of the Team. Maybe it seems more attainable when you see guys and girls you’ve known for years up on stage? I don’t think I’ve ever seen the last member to sneak into the snowboard team, Steph Hickey, with a bigger smile on her face!
The party was surprisingly full of sports and Channel 9 famous faces, and some out of place swimmers like Grant Hackett and Gian Rooney. The most important man in Australia gave a speech and intoduction, and even K-Rudd sent a video message perpetuating the myth that Australia “punches above its weight” on the world sporting stage – what a crock. If it weren’t for an old High Court interpretation of the Constitution that allows Australia to use taxpayer money to fund communist-styled institutional sporting programs for the “good of the country” we wouldn’t “perform” so well every 4 years. I’m all for public spending on sport, but now that the rest of the western world has cottoned on to taxpayer-funded sports programmes (except the USA, which is privately funded – ie sponsorship) don’t just expect and demand medals, Kevin. And remember, this is the same Labor that wants to cut sport spending unless a sport can guarantee medals (which affects all the marginal winter sports, except snowboarding and freestyle skiing).
After the AOC gig Dan and I then caught a cab to the aquarium where Canon and Nikon were jointly hosting a party – more open bars and hot buffets – for all the 1200 photographers. We just wanted to go along so we could pick up our gift, a limited edition Lowepro Flipside 500 camera backpack, which you can’t buy but would be worth about $300 in Oz. Score! But it was a bad idea to have a photog party at a place with some many bright and shiny things and so many enquiring eyes – I don’t think the jellyfish were allowed to float alone once…I even couldn’t help but get in on the paparazzit act, no matter how hard i tried to resist the obvious. It was a surreal, sort of nerdy party – but fun nevertheless. I got discussing Van’s shitty weather with a Canon Professional Services woman who commented that you don’t need to worry about white balance here – with all the clouds it’s always 18% grey. Haha. Photo humour.
Speaking of weather…it’s been pretty much raining the whole time i’ve been here, and doesn’t look like stopping. And I must say, i’m trying to love this city…but just can’t. What makes a city beautiful? Is it the people, the landscape, the structures or all three, plus that little bit of something else you can’t put your finger on? Van certainly gets a tick for its beautiful women, but a cross for all the pasty, splotchy-half-bearded hockey jocks. Without the advantage of makeup, fake tan or mineral bronzer, all the guys are so pale and weird looking – I swear I saw Edward Cullen yesterday. I understand why they filmed up here – the sun never shines on his glittery skin. And Van should get another tick for the theoretically snow-capped mountains across the bay, but with all this cloud, you can’t see them. The city itself is nothing special, in terms of structures, but where it really lets itself down is it’s slums right on the CBD doorstep. As the warmest city in Canada, Vancouver is mecca for the country’s homeless. They are everywhere, and then there’s all the druggies: I’ve been asked for spare change by cocky mother-fucker losers in the line for McDonalds and Pita Pit! I was walking just a couple hundred metres from the MPC and came across a homeless food shelter (I felt too intrusive to take photos) and on East Hastings there are shops selling everything to make your homeless life comfortable. There are even tourist information signs in front of the old Woodwards building that celebrate the descent into depravity that East Van has become. What’s next, Rio de Janeiro-style motorbike tours of the slums (favelas) to laugh and point at the downtrodden? Even Reno is less visibly sketchy than this place. I’ve never been to Detroit, Philly or the Bronx, but they can’t be much worse than Vancouver, except that in US slums I would be judged by the colour of my skin, and not by the content of my character, and targeted accordingly. It’s mostly white homeless here in Vancouver, which can make it hard to work out if that guy in tatty black clothes is a drug addled drifter, or just an urban hipster/emo punkster…until they get up close and you look at their eyes and skin.
Anyway, enough negativity. The Games are on, and there’s a great festive spirit all around…and I can’t wait till the weather clears (a little) and they can schedule some snowboard practice up at Cypress.