Dave Barry

Classic '98: Trains, planes, dog food

BY DAVE BARRY

Japanese figure skater Midori Ito lights the Olympic flame during opening ceremonies for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Japanese figure skater Midori Ito lights the Olympic flame during opening ceremonies for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. KRT File Photo

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, February 1, 1998.

The 1998 Winter Olympics will be held in Nagano, Japan, which was selected by the International Olympic Committee on the basis of being -- and here I quote the official IOC statement -- ``really hard to get to.'' The IOC considered holding these Olympics on one of the outer moons of Jupiter, but decided to go with Nagano because it's slightly farther away. To get there, you have to fly to Narita Airport, which serves Tokyo but is actually located in the Philippines; then you take a high-speed train, then a low-speed train, then a train that is not moving at all, then a medium-speed dogsled. Then you walk about 50 miles through wolf-infested snowdrifts. And this just gets you to baggage claim.

So attending these Olympics is not going to be easy. But many thousands of sports fans will do it, because they know there is nothing quite like that magical moment when you're standing at the end of the men's 170,000,000,000,000,000-meter cross-country ski event, watching an exciting, down-to-the-wire race between two powerhouses such as Finland and Estonia (total combined population: 17), and you suddenly realize, as the skiers reach the finish line, neck-and-neck, with their national pride on the line, that you have no feeling whatsoever in your feet. Many Winter Olympics spectators become permanently bonded to the snow and have to be extricated via jackhammer.

Sound like fun? If so, here's some information to help you be part of the 1998 Winter Olympics experience:

* Getting There: You should leave immediately. I mean it. It takes forever to get to Nagano, and the flights are all filling up on the major airlines, so you must leave RIGHT NOW. Don't even finish reading this paragraph! Throw some warm clothes in a grocery bag and SPRINT OUT THE DOOR BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE! You think I'm exaggerating? OK, fine, Mr. or Ms. Smartypants. We'll just see what you have to say when the Olympics are halfway over and you're stuck in Guam waiting for your connecting flight on Air Wombat.

* What To Wear: A lot. Basically you should take your entire wardrobe and wear all your clothes, including pajamas, at all times. You must do this because in Japan they use the ``Celsius'' system of temperature, which is much colder than our system, which is known as the ``Fahrenheit'' (or ``Hard To Spell'') system. For example, when it is 35 degrees Fahrenheit here, over in Japan that same 35 degrees, converted into Celsius, becomes . . . let's see, divide by nine, carry the seven, add the cosine . . . OK, I don't have the exact figures here, but trust me, it's cold.

* How Much Money To Take: All of it. Prices are high in Japan, as we can see from the following list of consumer goods that you are likely to need as a typical Winter Olympics spectator (the unit of currency is the ``yen,'' which is similar to ``Celsius''):

Beer -- 167,000 yen.

Pez -- 23,000 yen per unit.

Six-pack of wolf repellent -- 58,000 yen.

Tipping the guys who jackhammer your feet out of the snow -- 200,000 yen (more, if you retain all your toes).

* The Language: Bad news, here. It turns out that Japanese people speak Japanese, which is a foreign language that nobody understands. Linguistic experts say the best way to get along in this type of situation is to talk in English as loud as possible and repeat things over and over. Here are some English phrases that you will probably find helpful in Nagano:

-- ``NO, I DO NOT WISH TO TAKE OFF MY SHOES.''

-- ``LISTEN, BUSTER, YOU CAN HAVE MY SHOES WHEN YOU PRY THEM OFF MY COLD, DEAD FEET.''

-- ``WAITER, THERE'S A TENTACLE IN MY SOUP.''

-- ``WHERE CAN I FIND SOME REGULAR FOOD?''

-- ``I'M TALKING ABOUT FOOD THAT IS COMPLETELY DEAD.''

-- ``BURGER KING! FOR GOD'S SAKE, YOU MUST HAVE A BURGER KING!''

* Getting Tickets To The Events: The official distribution system for all Olympic events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, is a guy named Bud. The best way to contact him, according to the Official 1998 Winter Olympics Guide for Visitors, is to ``walk around the streets of Nagano waving your fingers in the air and shouting, `Need two for the women's luge!' '' The guide also recommends you carry ``a whole lot of yen.''

* * *

These are the basic facts you need to have a fun time at the Winter Olympics. You can get further information on attending the Games in person by checking out the official Nagano Olympics Internet site, located at www.nobodycheckstheseaddresses.com. Or you can just stay home, watch the Olympics on TV, and read the excellent newspaper coverage that will be provided by knowledgeable professional journalists. Also by me. I'll be going to Nagano in person, and I'll be providing you with detailed accounts of every single event, from the first minute of the Opening Ceremony all the way to maybe the third minute of the Opening Ceremony. After that you're on your own.

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