Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why I am Happy to Be an Olympian Couch Potato (Part Two)

When my daughters and I first concocted the plan to go to the Salt Lake City Olympics, life was different for both my family and the country than it would be by the time the Opening Ceremonies were held. Going to an event like the Olympics is something that you have to plan way, way in advance. I had to register just to be able to make a stab at buying tickets over a year in advance. At the time we began planning, Kelsey was still in middle school and maybe slightly rebellious, but all that angst was bubbling and had yet to surface to where I could see it, and I was buried in work, pulling all-nighters once or twice a week, so I would have been oblivious to just about any signs of impending trouble as it was. The World Trade Center still towered over New York City, and Americans still had that feeling of invincibility on their own soil. By the time the three of us packed up and headed north, everything was different. Both girls were in crisis, the towers had crumbled and with it our sense of security as a nation. My agenda changed completely. So did the country's. The original goal of my reconnecting with my kids over a sport we mutually loved had changed to a mad grab at pulling them back from a place I saw them going, but didn't understand. I think the United States saw the Salt Lake City Olympics as an attempt to show the world we had been kicked, but we weren't down. I guess the same was true for me. My sense of my family's essence had been shattered, and I was willing to try anything to get it back. I think one of the parties got what it was looking for anyway.

I probably should have seen the signs right from the start. I can't remember exactly what happened, but I was supposed to wait for an e-mail telling me it was my turn to queue up for tickets, which were on a first come, first serve basis based on the order in which you registered. I was one of the first to register, so I should have been in pretty good shape, but for some reason I can't clearly recall, I didn't get the e-mail until about ten days after they sent it. I remember having to buy the tickets from work, so I think my home PC crashed and burned, but I've conveniently blocked the details out. Suffice it to say that the most popular sports, women's figure skating and snowboarding, were long gone. And they were clever, those planners; if you wanted premium events, you had to buy them in pre-set groups, which meant you were paying for sports you would probably rather pay money NOT to go to, like women's hockey (my apologies to any female hockey players out there), cross country skiing (which is a fine sport, just not the most stimulating to watch) and preliminary rounds of things like luge, which meant you were watching dudes who were, compared to the end medal winners, like snails to a rocket. About the only thing I managed to avoid having tickets for was curling. I did get men's figure skating, both short and long programs, and one event in ice dancing, which at the time included the very sultry French couple Anissina and Peizerat, whom I had never seen live, so I was not completely deflated. I put in for some ticket exchange thing too, hoping somebody would dump their skating tickets somewhere along the line in the intervening months. The actual tickets came some six months in advance, maybe even more, and since they were worth half a fortune, I put them in a fire safe lock box.

Our very expensive group of tickets to things other than the one thing we set out to see tucked safely away, planning commenced. Now, the problem with liking winter sports over summer sports is that they are generally held during school. We knew other students who had been granted time off for similar events, but when I approached the high school principal, I got a rather firm, irritated-that-I-was-even-asking "NO". Marissa's principal, on the other hand, was completely committed to supporting our going, and had been very sympathetic to us as Marissa started to show signs of troubles of her own. In the end, it was her help that got the ice to melt a bit in the heart of her high school counterpart. She even called on our behalf, stating that family should always come first and that she believed it was a good thing that we were doing. Ms. Stuffy High School Administrator may have relented after that, but she was clearly not happy and was very sure I knew it. I was not overjoyed with having that level of scrutiny on us, but I had managed to get what I wanted with a little whining and manipulation, so one more hurdle overcome. I dealt with grade level assistants ever after and never spoke to the Principal of that school again. I had better experiences with others in the administration, and overall I thought they worked hard to get Kelsey through to graduation, but I was admittedly pretty happy I never had to deal with her again. She moved on the next year, and I couldn't even tell you her replacement's name. I liked keeping under the radar after that. I will confess now that the homework stipulation she put on Kelsey as part of her condition for signing off on the trip was something I was pretty sure was going to come back incomplete. By that time, Kelsey was so far into her rebellious stage, there was no way she was going to do anything someone in authority told her to do, let alone someone so blatantly contemptuous of Kelsey. But, I figured I'd cross that bridge when I got to it and by the time we had to cross it, we'd be back from the trip with what I hoped were life altering experiences, and it would all be worth it. I also will tell you now that Kelsey and Marissa were not even close to the only students who went that year. I'm not sure if it's always the case, but Salt Lake City isn't all that far away in a relative sense, so I think the opportunity was just too great from many families. I would imagine fewer kids are traveling to Canada this year, and fewer still travel outside the Continent, but both daughters had multiple classmates who missed days to attend events. Some asked permission first, some didn't. But, I would bet that small fortune I paid for those blasted women's hockey tickets, none of them got near as much flak as Kelsey did. People had begun to look at my daughter as an embodiment of the Dark Side. Where once there had been an Anakin Skywalker, they now saw Darth Veldman. Even people who should have been trained to know better judged her by her exterior, not trying to look beyond at what was going on inside the mask.

Nonetheless, I had what I needed to make this trip happen. We had tickets, we had clearance to go. My business partner's parents lived in Salt Lake City and had agreed to allow us to stay with them, having never met us. I bought the girls sweaters, scarves and hats and new coats for Christmas the year before. After a long time and a lot of planning and work, February 2002 rolled around. It was time to go.
Olympic Flags over the Main Media Center

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