Dave Barry

Classic '96: Atlanta: The Official Olympics Tackytown


This Dave Barry column was originally published Friday, July 19, 1996.

And so, finally, the waiting is over, and the time has come to begin the Games of the XXVI Olympiad -- better known as, simply, "The Official Sports Marketing Event of the Coca-Cola Corp."

When all is said and done, this massive extravaganza will involve more than 23,000 athletes from 2,783 nations competing in 7,423 individual sports ranging from Synchronized Air Rifle to Whack-a-Mole; not to mention 163,000 journalists, 939,000 security personnel, 2.3 million Nike marketing executives, 417 million members of the actual humanoid public and four people driving shuttle buses.

These figures are only estimates, of course; a lot of people suspect that there are only two people driving shuttle buses.

Despite a few transportation "glitches," the air here is thick with excitement and body aromas as the Olympic organizers welcome the world to Atlanta, which proudly calls itself "The City That Is Too Busy to Hate Because It Has Been Occupied Full- Time With Jacking Up Hotel and Restaurant Prices."

No, wait, I'm sorry. I really don't want to join in the general media-bashing of Atlanta. Atlanta contains a lot of nice people who are trying very hard to be good hosts. The problem is that Atlanta, through no fault of its own, is -- follow me closely here -- Atlanta.

We in the media have already been to Atlanta numerous times, and although we have found it to be an excellent place to change planes, we do not care for it as a destination city. We prefer to attend the Olympics in exotic foreign locales such as Norway or Los Angeles.

The commercial district

So we arrived here in a cranky and critical mood. And it has not helped matters that the Olympic operation in downtown Atlanta has basically the same level of dignity, sophistication and grandeur as a Veg-O-Matic commercial.

It looks as though a giant vacuum cleaner went around sucking up all the T-shirt, hat, souvenir and corn dog booths in all the county fairs in America and then spewed them out randomly all over the streets. There also is a six-story Coke bottle,  as well as large statues of such Olympic legends as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis ("The Official Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love of the Summer Games").

The makers of Swatch watches ("The Official Timepiece in the $25-$40 Price Range and You Definitely Get What You Pay For of the Summer Games") have hung a gigantic wristwatch from the side of a building. We can be grateful that there is no Official Hemorrhoid Remedy, because otherwise I guarantee you that there would be a suppository the size of the Washington Monument. Or maybe I just haven't seen it yet.

Of course maybe the foreign journalists, many of whom have never been to Atlanta, will view it with a less-jaded eye.

What do the Swedes think?

I rode in from the airport with a group of Swedish journalists, and I had plenty of time to monitor their reactions

because our hotel shuttle bus driver, probably for security reasons, had not been told where any of the hotels are actually located. As we inched through the heavy downtown traffic, he would periodically open his window and yell to a police officer, "WHICH WAY TO THE RADISSON?" And whichever way the bus was pointed, the officer would point the other way.

So anyway, I spent a lot of time listening to the Swedes discuss their reactions to Atlanta. Unfortunately, because they were speaking in Swedish, I am not sure what they said. But based on their tone and facial expressions, I think the gist of it was:

"I don't know about you, Sven, but what with the long flight from Sweden, coupled with the extreme heat and humidity here in Atlanta, by the time we get to the hotel I will have to set fire to my underwear."

I ended up getting off the bus and walking to my hotel; I think the Swedes, who had too much luggage to walk, may spend the entire Olympics circling around in the downtown area on the shuttle bus, surviving by eating their Official Olympic Welcome Guides, then just shuttling back to the airport at the end. They could be the lucky ones.

NEWS BULLETIN: Olympic authorities suspended four members of the Chinese doubles pinochle team after their urine samples tested positive for traces of Pepsi. We will have more developments on this story if we think of any.