Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's Atlanta!

Can you believe it's already 10 years since the '96 Atlanta Olympics?

You probably have some memories of that year. It was a major event in the lives of Atlantans. This was made strikingly clear to me the other day when, in a conversation with Jeff, I jokingly said, ”To Dee City of….Ahtlahnta” in a very Juan Antonio Samaranch accented voice. Jeff is not an Atlanta native, thus he had no idea what I was referencing, as many of you may not. I was imitating that famous early-morning announcement by the IOC President that our city had captured the dream. My school parking lot rang out with honking horns that morning and the city was abuzz for the day, weeks, and years leading up to our chance to welcome the world.

Maybe you didn’t live here, but us Atlantans remember eerily empty rush-hours, United Nations-like representation on Marta trains, the world’s news teams camped out in our city and a corporate “Olympic city” like none the world had seen. It’s like the Fortune100 threw up in downtown, giant chunks of glitzy, neon, Olympic marketing.

Now, I'll admit I was in collusion with this, some would say, uglier side of the Olympic memory. I volunteered at “Nike Park,” a multi-level homage to the goddess herself. The goddess wears expensive tennis shoes and makes lots of money convincing everyone else they should too. I won’t lie to you, my Swoosh summer was exciting: ushering people to one of various interactive stations where they could hop next to a regulation beach volleyball net or line up in track pose next to a cardboard cut-out of…gold-shoes guy…ah yes, Michael Johnson.

I got a neat outfit – a pair of Nike Ked-like sneakers, blue Nike shorts and a couple T-shirts which had “96” and a swoosh emblazoned on them. Rumor has it that in the Olympic memorabilia frenzy one of my co-laborers was offered $500 for the shirt off his back. I said at the time that had it been me I don’t think I’dve sold it. I’m stupid. I also probably thought I'd need that commemorative BellSouth Olympic pin someday. In all, my Nike park experience was a good one. I got to be downtown in the mix, see some celebs and attend the memorable post-bomb re-opening of Centennial Park.

My Nike gig came about as part of my participation in missions organization YWAM's olympic outreach. YWAM worked closely with olympic organizers to provide volunteers at all levels of all ages. So when I wasn’t directing people toward those misting “cooling stations”, I was going to worship services with a thousand other YWAM volunteers, playing hackey-sack and sleeping on a gym floor for 3 weeks with 250 crazy teenagers like me. We shared about 10 showers between us all. To avoid cold water and long waits, I developed a routine of waking up at 4am to shower, then returning to the “comfort” of my spot on the floor for another few hours. I ate lots of peanut butter and jelly that summer.

Its amazing to think that us YWAM kids were just 250 of thousands, tens of thousands of people young and old who flooded our city to work, volunteer, preach, sell stuff, you name it…all to be a part of this global event. We were a community in glorious struggle for 3 hot July weeks. God was very good to us and to our city.

What are some of your recollections or leftover memorabilia from that summer, just 10 summers ago?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Final World Cup Thoughts

I feel rather exhausted at the moment. I’ve just finished mopping up the last of my “breakfast for dinner” scrambled eggs and toast. Sure, I awoke at 7:45 this morning after a late night, sang in two church services, and just a few short hours ago my house bustled with the excited faces of American soccer fans. Those who came into this World Cup adventure swearing that they wouldn’t care, then finding themselves swept up. That made me happy. But I didn’t know I would be so exhausted and sad when it all ended.

As anyone at our little Championship gathering can attest, the Weaver allegiances were unmistakable: A giant blue hydrangea with a hangtag reading “Allez Les Bleus” adorned my front door. My table spread with all things red, white and blue to support… France of course. There was Parisian kitch (from Target no less), blueberries, cherries, and the requisite baguette, butter and camembert. Sadly, the $10 Champagne still rests comfortably on my fridge’s top shelf. There was no need for uncorking or celebration this afternoon.

Sure, I am sad that France lost, but sadder still at the surprising exit of Zinedine Zidane, who had fast become my tournament hero. The 34 year old star returning to the game, as beautiful as ever, exchanging handshakes and hugs with opposing players, rarely feigning fouls (“diving”) during games. His playing is beauty and Zidane seemed to me a class act. Which is why his senseless head-butt to the chest of an opposing player, resulting in his ejection was so frustrating. Even had France won, what a blemish to endure. French papers reported the stunned disappointment of French fans, packed onto the Champs Elysees, unable to relive the glory of ‘98.

I hope they don’t blame “Zizou” for the loss, Italy played outstanding defense and deserved to win. But I’m still sad to say bye to Zidane that way, and equally as unready to say goodbye to this quadrennial funfest of international togetherness. To flag-waving Germans who finally feel safe to rally around their country again. To Ivory Coast players whose World Cup presence halted civil war. To the mediocre American broadcast team on ESPN and ABC who tried their darndest to get all of us ignorant gringos to like soccer. To my lovely, non-sporty mum screaming at the TV and talking footie like she’s been watching it for years. To now-empty pubs, and streets and city-squares that hosted millions of fans of all colors, sizes, economic backgrounds all there together to watch, dream and soak in every moment of one of the globe’s great equalizers: sport.

Thanks for enduring the soccer craze. I’ll get back to restaurant reviews and travelogues soon enough. Allez Les Braves.