Park City, Utah-Now that the XIX Winter Olympic Games are about halfway down the mountain, it's time to consider some of the oddities that only a $2 billion international athletic event can create.
Nice Parka, Mate: A group of Australians at a Park City bar were nearly shooting beer out of their noses with laughter when they noticed the huge "Roots" logos on U.S. Ski Team coats on television. Seems "root" is slang for doing the "dirty deed" back home, and the Aussies thought it quite friendly of the Yanks to welcome the world to their doorstep that way.
Frozen Crocodile Tears: Some Salt Lake City parking lot owners had fantasized about making a modest fortune during the Games, jacking their prices up to $40 for prime parking spots. Spectators have flooded the city, but have left their cars at home, using mass transit much more than organizers anticipated. A recent streetside survey revealed parking spaces in the $10 range.
Toughest Tickets: Forget the downhill, halfpipe and moguls events, or even the hockey games or skating competitions, the tickets people are screaming for are to the nightly medal ceremonies that feature the emotional awarding of the medals and playing of national anthems. Oh, yes. The awards shows also feature national music acts, such as Dave Matthews and the Foo Fighters. Hint: Show up outside the Medal's Plaza just before the ceremony starts and you'll more than likely find scalpers looking to unload a ticket or two-cheap.
Toughest Tickets II: In fact, an unscientific survey found scalpers at many of the events selling tickets at-or near-face value.
Hat Hottie: What Katie wears, the rest of the world wants. After high-profile play covering Katie Couric's head on the Today Show and as the topper of choice by the U.S. athletes during the Opening Ceremonies, the microfleece "USA 2002" Olympic beret has become the Tickle Me Elmo of the Winter Games. Beret buyers are lining up outside shops at 7 a.m. to wait hours to snag the $20 souvenir-when they can find 'em in stock. Street hustlers are selling the lids at up to four times the price. Pssst: The trendy "patriot blue" toppers can be found on the manufacturer's web site (roots.ca) for $19.95, plus shipping.
Cut! During the Games' Opening Ceremonies, Mark Twain's lyrical description of Utah from 1872 was part of a narration heard by a worldwide TV audience of several billion people: "This was a fairy land to us, a land of enchantment and awful mystery." No surprise that Twain's next line, as smartly picked up upon by the Salt Lake Tribune, was somehow left out: "We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had."
Skier Most Likely To Sell American Posters: Kari Traa, Norway's blonde beauty who edged America's Shannon Bahrke to win gold in women's moguls.
Lakegulls?: With the nearest ocean three states away, why in the name of green Jell-O is the California Gull Utah's state bird? Legend has it that thousands of gulls from the Great Salt Lake ate their way through a plague of grasshoppers that threatened the crops of early Mormon pioneers, saving their settlement from starvation. A seagull monument can be seen in Temple Square. Hey, that's no weirder than the Red Sea parting.
Get It Right: The correct term for state residents is Utahns, not Utahans, as many of the Utahns are quick to point out.
Feel Safe? There are reportedly more U.S. troops in Salt Lake than Afghanistan. How many can actually ski is another question.
We'll Catch The Race On NBC Tonight: A group of high-paid U.S. executives on an Olympic junket were overheard discussing their day's plans: "Should we go watch the men's downhill or go skiing instead?" More than half chose to click into their skis and hit the slopes. Despite the best skiers in the world putting on the best show in four years, skiing remains, at its heart, a sport to do, not watch.
Best Crrowd Cheer: After Jonny Moseley flawlessly nailed his technically tough Dinner Roll jump in the finals of the Men's Moguls competition-looking like the radical move earned him a gold medal until the final few skiers-his rooting section in the stands instantly started yelling: "No more Twisters! No more Twisters!" The derisive chat was directed at competitors who continue to throw traditional tricks, which some view as way old school. Even skiing's new school has an old school.
New Orleans, Utah: Women could be found in Park City on Mardi Gras night earning strands of beads by responding to cheers of "Show Us Your Moguls."
Last Call: If you can't drink your fill in Park City or Salt Lake City, you're either ignorant or lazy.