March 01, 2010

The Olympic Flame Is Out...

...and so last night my friend and I went up to join the thousands in downtown Vancouver to be "in the moment." 

What a moment! The torch flame out, only one bridge into the city left open (too many people!), we somehow found free parking, and stepped into a slice of history where my countrymen were not only buzzed from their record-breaking Olympic gold medals but intoxicated in the aftermath of a hard-won hockey Gold, the heart-stopping, lose-your-pulse greatest game ever! Canada’s Sidney Crosby making the winning goal in an overtime shutout with the US! 

“Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da!” chanted the surging crowd.

Madness! Euphoric madness! People dressed in flags, faces painted, fists in the air, horns going, the energy of pride, camaraderie, bursting into the air like the America’s “rockets’ red glare.” The Canadian flag very much there.

Oddly, Kay Dee, a displaced Texan, was more “in the groove” than me, letting out a shriek and a holler and a “Go Canada!” to passing strangers, fist-bumping people wearing flags like Super Man’s cape, high-fiving old and young. "Oh, Canada! Our home and native land! True, patriot love, to all our sons command..." she sang. Me, a misplaced Canadian living eight miles south of the border, I trudged alongside her with typical Canadian reserve but still managing to enjoy myself.

“Hey!” I grabbed Kay Dee’s elbow. “Take that girl’s picture!” Kay Dee trotted after Miss High Hair, me in pursuit. Epitome of grace, the lovely girl struck a pose. Cameras spontaneously flashed.


All around me Vancouver’s majesty and beauty towered. Lights shimmered off the inlet. Flowers twinkled in the streetlight. I saw it all through the filter of time, as a child coming into the city to visit the dentist, running errands (like the day we bought a copper milk jug somewhere in the loop off Oak Street Bridge and Marine Drive), long days at Stanley Park, visits to grandparents, playtime with cousins. A whole history here of pleasure, a garden of adventure, a haven of allure. My city. My country. My countrymen. I suddenly missed my home and yearned for all the days when life was simple and predictably peaceful--but ripe.

“I have to have a flag,” I said. Everyone had flags.

We almost tripped over a pair selling them. Big ones, four bucks. Little ones, two. “Do you have a twony?” I asked. Kay Dee shuffled through my backpack where we’d put her Canadian change.

A flag now mine, I secured it to my backpack. Yup, I was getting in the groove.

Not in My House, Not on my Land.”  We came across two posters we didn’t understand, held aloft by stationary strangers, a fixed point in a sea of humanity. We stood in the surge, trying to figure it out. A tall man, blond, blue-eyed, dressed in red, and leaning against a lamppost, shouted down from  his lofty height, “That’s our goalie! Roberto Luongo!”

“Not a protester?” shouted up Kay Dee.

No! Our goalie!” He turned to sport his LUONGO #1 jersey. "Our goalie! He’s saying, ‘You can’t have the gold! Not in my house, not on my land!’”

“Oh!” shouted up Kay Dee and I, both thrilled to understand. I reached and offered my first fist. “Ca-na-da!” Touch. A fist-bump, a connection to humanity, a reminder that it’s people, not government, who live in this world. We belong in it together. To quote the Americans out of context, “We, the people…” When had I forgotten this? Yeah, go Canada!  Go world!

I turned around. Kay Dee? Kay Dee? One minute I was staring down into the public ice rink, ten second later… Kay Dee? Seymour and Pender, this was where we parked. This was our agreement; go back to the car, start over. But she had the map.

“I lost my friend,” I told the stranger next to me. “Can you tell me where Seymour and Pender is?”

“Two blocks up, three blocks over. Good luck!” Another fist bump.Touch.

It took awhile to push my way through the curb-to-curb. Finally! But, wait, the entrance doesn't look right. I head down the slope into the garage. Nope. I'm turned around. Coming in the out. Typical. I start back up the exit. At the top do I turn left? right? 

Miraculously—I do believe in God, I do believe in God—there she was, walking past the exit. “KAY DEE!” I bellowed. She whirled, saw me. Her face lit up, her arms went up. I chugged uphill, my own arms up, and just like all the slow-mo movies of lovers running through flower fields and blue sky, Kay Dee and I ran through concrete corridor and artificial light and happily threw ourselves at each other.

Headed back into the madding crowd, we tucked arms. “I don’t care if we look like lesbians,” she shouted, “we can’t lose each other again!”

I agreed.

We agreed too, to stop in at the Olympic Store, temporarily held in the Hudson’s Bay Company. I have to say, the Bay is my favorite store. In the olden days, this is where we'd stop in to use the bathroom—a huge, high-ceilinged affair, designed with black and white mosaic tiling, regal and majestic with tall mirrors, green fixtures, and golden taps. If my sisters and I were lucky, or if we were with an old auntie, hands washed and feeling better, we’d head for the basement where the food was. At the deli, Mum, or an auntie, would buy us “pigs in a blanket,” sausage rolls wrapped in flakey pastry—to be dipped, of course, in mustard. None of this exists anymore. 

What exists was a long line just to get in. Kay Dee and I inched forward, peering in through the windows where Olympic jerseys and jackets littered the floor and looked too much like Ross’s Dress For Less to suit me. A madhouse once in and a push and shove through the throngs in search of an Olympic baseball cap, for Kay Dee’s husband, that wasn’t white. 

“Hey, what’s this?” I squealed with delight. Maybe I’m in love with the Hudson’s Bay Company because I’m in love with their blankets. I grew up with the traditional white one, with its yellow, green, and red stripe, keeping me warm at night. Today I have two red blankets, with black stripes, a six-point and four-point. Meaning, once upon a time they cost six and four beaver pelts respectively. But here, on display and lined up in a row, mannequins sported a variety of coats and jackets created from the blankets. A contest, apparently. Only one was chosen for manufacture, a mere $695. Ouch. The fox, a lovely four-point coat, was not in the running. Too bad. Lose the fox, and I was in.

The bathroom is now in the basement, and is--no surprise here--now sterile and generic and very Ronald MacDonald in its sheer ordinariness. But surprise, surprise, coming back up the escalator, we found ourselves fenced off. What, what? We can’t get out? Help!

Finally! Whew! Back outside, the crowd was getting thicker, younger. A singular vulgarity suddenly interrupted world peace. “Fuck the USA. A whole new way!’ Okay, enough. We popped into Tim Horton’s to rest our aching feet, have some soup, a sandwich, decaf coffee. A security foursome was hunched over fries behind Kay Dee. Two officials with ear sets relaxed behind me. A trio of flag-decked kids tromped in. “Can I take your picture?” Kay Dee asks. We’re right back to goodwill, courtesy, and Canadian character.

The city could not have been prettier driving out, crossing back over the Burrard Street Bridge, cutting left onto Broadway, up Granville, cutting another left to Oak, up Oak, and then over the Oak Street Bridge—somewhere down beneath us a cluttered shop that sold my mum our pretty copper milk jug. An hour later I was in bed in the States. Outside my back window were the lonely but lovely lights of Cypress Mountain in the distance, twinkling in an inky sky, serene testament to two-plus weeks of peaceful world competition. Hearts  were broken, records were made, all testimonial proof to ourselves that, despite the isolated jerk free to chant vulgarity in our faces, we can, we’re capable, it is possible, to achieve connection to humanity; we can override governments and barriers, reach across divides and shake hands, and fist bump the world that is us. Touch, feel, be. The flame might be out but, “Yeah, go us.”  


  1. Hey, Rocklin, is this you? If so, guess what? Blake's brother is adopting a little Chinese girl called Alice Mai. We will probably get her in June. Are you still in the Netherlands? Write me in English, so I know what you're saying. Okay?

    PS I still have your Chinese note in my passport. "Tell me how to get to the airport." :)

  2. Rachel9:23 AM

    You crazy Canadian you.

  3. This is totally awesome. I'm so glad you got to go. Must have been more exciting than words could express, with all the "hoop-la".

  4. Hi Brenda, I just want to let you know that I enjoyed reading about your escapades after the Olympics. It must have been an exciting time.(for Ca-na-dians that is).


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