By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Accommodations: Arriving late on Tuesday, I'm stationed
a block from Centennial Olympic Park
at one of several hotels taken over by the media for the 1996 Olympics. But I'm an imposter here, credential-less, the guest of a friend who's covering the Games for a national newsweekly. For $10 a night, I get to share his room, which looks onto the solid square block of cast concrete that is the Atlanta Apparel Mart. From the street comes a continuous roar of generators for concession stands, punctuated by the plaintive whistles of cops directing traffic and the cries of people hawking stuff, often with the help of bullhorns. "Icycoldwateronedahla!" screams a woman for hours on end, while another guy begs in an exaggerated Southern slur, "Come on dooown, get out of your cars for some souveneeers, come ooooooon down."
The Premier Event: Thursday afternoon a capacity crowd takes two hours to funnel into a single entrance at the Georgia Dome for the women's gymnastics all-around finals; security has been doubled because the First Family is in attendance. Yesterday I hustled on Peachtree Street's open-air ticket market full of sharks, shysters, and yes, some honest folk: After impulsively visiting a "Cash Cow" ATM ($3 surcharge), I got a prized gymnastics ticket for six bucks less than face value. For $100, my view of the world's 36 best gymnasts is roughly equivalent to a four-ring flea circus featuring lots of flipping, leaping, prancing, and arm flourishes. The guy next to me kindly offers his binoculars--at least when Americans aren't performing--and I feel creepily powerful scrutinizing Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea.
What If They Threw A Party and No One Came?: Downtown and its environs are full of woefully underpatronized souvenir stands, parking-lot carnivals, and beer gardens intended as diversions for the Olympic hordes. Atlanta had overzealously sold vendor licenses--one cab driver says his friend paid $5,000 for part of a tent--and by the time I leave, many booths aren't even bothering to open. The little guys don't stand a chance against the big money that's here. Centennial Olympic Park, for instance, is a clean and colorful corporate wonderland squirming with bodies; at night, Budweiser's sparkling water art holds people in thrall, a light show plays across the white tents of the AT&T Global Olympic Village, and the Swatch Pavilion glows a mod pink. But the scrappy vendors persevere. With the help of bullhorns, two undaunted blondes try to lure revellers from "Sports Jam '96" over to "Atlanta Jaz Fest '96," just up the street from my hotel. "We've got two-dollar, 16-ounce Budweisers just around the corner!" Apparently, no one's nibbling: The next night one of them is on the corner demanding, "Come to Jaz Fest, sit down, and RELAX!"
Thespians for Jesus: Several troupes of Christian youth roam the streets of downtown Atlanta, performing evangelistic guerrilla theater. My favorite production takes place on the street between Coca-Cola Olympic City and Centennial Olympic Park. Jesus and the devil, flanked by assorted minions, engage in a Rocky-esque battle with lots of lip-synching to pre-recorded dialogue, and an extremely well-choreographed fight. Jesus eventually kicks the devil's ass, and the small crowd cheers wildly. It quickly disperses, however, once the preaching begins. There are more pressing matters at hand: The line is an hour long just to get into the Nike Superstore.
Ground Zero: I'm asleep at the hotel when my friend calls from the press center about the bomb . The rest of the night is devoted to watching Tom Brokaw on the TV and surveying the hoopla on the street from the ninth-floor balcony. Army privates and a squadron of cops set up barriers to confine members of the press to the sidewalk; ambulances, along with BATF, AT&T, and FBI vehicles, race back and forth to the park; helicopters and a blimp circle continuously. I watch Brokaw's Klieg-lit colleague from NBC talking into his mike down on the corner, and then look into the room and see him on TV. Going outside myself, I feel naked: After all, with neither credentials nor camera, or even a notebook, I could be engaged in "suspicious activity." The next day brings still more guys in fatigues, and over a hundred bomb threats. The one on our hotel comes near midnight. Everyone stands around across the street, the photogs taking pictures with fancy oversized lenses, the journalists trying to reason with the army guys as to exactly why they can't walk down a certain stretch of sidewalk.
End of the Party: As our hotel is being searched, Ms. Jaz Fest '96 is still pacing the sidewalk, entreating people via bullhorn to get their heinies into her party. If they don't, I'm afraid she'll become a mad bomber herself. Alas, as I head for the airport Sunday afternoon, Jaz Fest is closing down. Along with countless other would-be nouveau riche vendors, these folks saw their dreams of Olympic gold die early. Maybe some of them will recoup a few bucks turning the site back into a parking lot. *
The human race, let's face it, needs help. Fortunately, the SELF-HELP INDUSTRY exists to help. Take Stan Olson, author of A Single Man Opens His Heart and Tells the Truth, who promises his readers he'll "give you straight answers to questions you have wanted answered for a long, long time." Olson's signature philosophical tome repeats like Carmen's death refrain through all 95 pages: "You and I want to be happy, and to be happy we must be together, play together, and share together in this sandbox called life. I was not sent here to steal your pail and pull your braids. You were not sent here to grab my shovel and throw sand in my face. We were put here to play and share our lives together." Olson, it's no surprise, lists a Las Vegas post office box. Viva the great sandbox. More straight-talk from Stan follows: