VANCOUVER — A message to those journalists hunkered down over their desks at the Main Press Center in Vancouver: Get out and enjoy the sun, the crowds, and the Olympic Cauldron. You might never again see an Olympics like this one. You surely will never see the flame so well.
This is my fourth Games, and for the first two (Sydney and Athens) I worked for NBC. For the last one, I worked for USA Today. This time, after being laid off by Gannett in early December, I'm here on my own.
And while there's something magical about having the "infinity" credential of big media at the Olympics (its presence around your neck allows you to go just about everywhere and anywhere, for free), the fact that I don't have it this time around has given me a new appreciation for the event that is the Games.
The streets here in Vancouver are teeming with people. Think of what 161st Street and River Avenue looks like before a Yankees playoff game, and you'll have an idea. But it's 24/7. And everywhere. The SkyTrain here is packed like the A train at rush hour all hours of the day.
I was on the train Saturday morning with a family from Fort Nelson, British Columbia (near the Yukon border). Two boys, 10 and 11. Hockey fanatics. Never been to the big city. Their new favorite player? American Gigi Marvin, who signed their "hockey sockeys" after a women's game the other day.
And guess what? If you're out among the people, you'll be enjoying yourself too much to nitpick. I went out to the Olympic cauldron the other night, and sure, it's not surrounded by the most aesthetically pleasing fence (a fence they've since replaced with plexiglass), but it's right there. Thirty yards in front of you, not 300 feet in the air on top of a stadium like it normally is. And you don't need a ticket to see it.
Just a year and a half ago in Beijing, you couldn't get within half a mile of the Olympic Stadium, where the flame was displayed, without a ticket to an event inside the Olympic park. I think the best view of the flame was via my hotel-room window, on the 22nd floor.
I know Olympic nitpicking can be considered its own event, and not everything has gone entirely smooth, but can you imagine what the response would have been in Beijing if you complained about the cauldron? Re-education, for sure. Here, in Canada, they made a concession: move the fences back and open up a viewing platform. Is it a perfect solution? No. But is it an example of a free society where those in control listen to the people? Absolutely.
So, to my journalist colleagues, I say take the SkyTrain to the end of the line in Surrey. Chat up the transit volunteers. Take the pulse of the city via the throngs of people waiting in line to buy Olympic souvenirs at the Hudson's Bay Co. building. Watch a Canadian hockey game with with a pro-Canada crowd. Go see the cauldron rather than shuffle from one media event to another. Just get out there. You might enjoy the view.
And lay off the cauldron. It's awesome.
Dan Friedell is a freelance journalist covering the Vancouver Games. Contact him at danfriedell.com.