Crowds. Advertisements. Commercialization. Idiots. Cattle. Over protection. Paranoia. Bullshit. This is what I see when I walk through the crowds of people overtaking England’s beloved parks to feel a part of the Olympics by watching big TV screens with strangers.
But I am crabby. I am tainted. I am judgmental. I am an adult.
The best thing I’ve done during London 2012 was go to Hyde Park with a 12 year old. She lives several hours from London and doesn’t get to the city often. When we picked her up, she had one of those purses with long straps that you can wear under your clothes. You know, the kind white tourists take into cities to trick pickpockets. So cute.
“Yes!” Fist pump.
Despite empty seats, she wanted to stand, lean against the pole, feel the movement of the train. On the Tube, you need your ticket to enter and exit. When she realized this, she frequently asked when to get her ticket ready. And as my partner and I discussed which lines to take, where we’d separate and where we’d meet again, she was utterly amazed. I remember that feeling. The how-do-they-know-all-that-stuff feeling that becomes the, one-more-fucking-thing-to-remember feeling.
Dumping $9 billion into an Olympics gets you several awesome open space setups one of which is in Hyde Park by the Marble Arch. Covered in woodchips to keep the grounds from turning into another Glastonbury, the free public venue within Hyde Park has at least four massive TV screens, dozens of food venues, bars, two concert stages and games for the kiddos. Each screen has different events and athletes and singers cameo between events. Very cool. If you’re into that sort of thing. Generally I am not.
When we got off the Tube, I thought, “Jesus Christ, look at all the people.” She said, “Oh my God! Look at all the people! This is so cool!”
On the way to the park, I beelined it through the crowd, ducking in and out of the dawdling families, focused on the goal until I looked at her doing what I used to do — what I do when I’m not so high strung — watching the fascinating ebb and flow of society. I slowed down.
When we got to the entrance, I almost turned around. More than 20 entry gates surrounded by security guards, metal detectors and signs warning us to leave guns, tasers and food at home. Airport security.
Preparing for our 45-minute wait, I thought, “What kind of idiots wait in line for something like this?”
Parents. People who want to give their kids an experience, something to remember. Selfless individuals who give up rare days off to battle crowds and stave off headaches. People who read their first-born child The Pokey Little F”(*ing Puppy” one million times hoping that if she wants to become a writer, she will become a writer.
This is a calm kid but when we walked in and she saw all the screens, the vendors, the games, the stages, she was ecstatic. I must admit. It was kind of cool. It was like being at a G-rated concert.
She sat in that venue for more than six hours watching diving, weight lifting, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling and track and field. Even if she didn’t understand the event, she watched it because sitting on woodchips watching meant being part of something. And when that Jamaican flew across the 100-meter finish line, she was on her toes with the rest of the crowd, cheering, screaming, smiling.
We left after the 100-meter race. It was about 10:30 p.m. When I stopped for coffee, I was thinking of the 30-minute Tube ride and more than two-hour drive home. She was thinking about hot chocolate, the only thing she asked for all day.
On the Tube (sitting this time), drinking our hot chocolate and coffee, I felt jealous like a child at a birthday party. Jealous of the way she sees things, frustrated in the way I let moods or worries or anxiety shadow life.
With all the events, all the medals being won, all the activity, the absolute best thing I’ve done this Olympics was see it through a child’s eyes. When it’s all said and done, that’s what I’ll remember most.