LONDON -- And so the time has come, after three weeks at the Olympics, to pack our suitcases, pour gasoline on them and set them on fire because we have been recycling our underwear to the point where it can never be used again except for biological warfare.
But before we leave, lets assess these Olympics. Well start with the bad:
• SHOUTING MICROPHONE IDIOTS: This trend started at U.S. sporting events, and unfortunately has spread to the Olympics - the practice of giving a microphone to a DJ wannabe who, instead of letting the spectators react naturally, hectors them relentlessly, demanding that they cheer, often when nothing is happening. The worst offender here was a bellowing twit at the basketball games who kept ordering the crowd, over the absurdly over-amplified p.a. system, to MAKE SOME NOISSSE!
I came to hate this guy. While plugging my ears with my fingers, I had this fantasy, which is that scientists had invented, and I had brought to the arena, a portable but very powerful Sound Ray Gun. In my fantasy, the first time the microphone twit ordered us to MAKE SOME NOI ... he would be floored, in mid-bellow, by a tightly focused blast of high-decibel energy that would melt his microphone and leave him naked and hairless. The spectators would then be free to make their own cheering decisions.
• BBC HOMERISM: Many people, including me, have criticized NBCs tendency to gloss over or ignore non-American athletes. I will not do this again, not after two weeks of watching BBCs Olympic coverage, which was so obsessively focused on British athletes that you sometimes couldnt be sure what sport you were watching, only that some athlete from Team GB was battling it out against a Croatian for 17th place.
• THE FOOD: I know, I know, its a cliché that English food is bad. But a lot of people have been claiming its getting better. These people are lying: Its still horrible. At least it was at the Olympic venues. Heres a tip: If any food vendor ever asks you if you want, for your side dish, something called mushy peas, tell him no, even if the alternative is squid gonads.
OK, those are the main things I didnt like about these Olympics. Heres what I liked: Everything else. London was a truly great host city, somehow managing despite its confusing vastness, its crowding, its insane traffic, its frantic overwhelming busy-ness to be gracious and welcoming. The games were well organized; the thousands of volunteers, God bless them, were as earnest and helpful at 2 a.m. on the 11th day of the games as they were at noon on the first. The Londoners I encountered people on the street, people in the Tube, taxi drivers, waiters, store clerks were uniformly cheerful and patient, no matter how long it took me to figure out which coin was ten pence, and which was twenty.
People say London is not as civil as it used to be. That may be, but London has a long way to fall before it becomes (to pick a city at random) Miami. Theres still a charmingly quaint politeness about public discourse here, especially the fussy way that instructions are phrased. The most famous example is Mind the gap telling you not to step between train and platform but you see it everywhere. For example, this was printed in the shower wall of my hotel bathroom: