LONDON — My family and I arrived here safely, despite traveling aboard a gigantic plane that flagrantly violated the laws of physics just by taking off, let alone flying all the way across the Atlantic. In addition to what appeared to be several thousand passengers, this plane had a bar AND a staircase. For all I know there was also a waterfall. I suspect there are parts of this plane that have yet to be explored by man.
Nevertheless we made it to London, and upon arrival we set out to find the Olympics. This is not as easy as it sounds. People tend to picture the Olympics as sort of a big county fair there's a midway where you can buy official Olympic corn dogs, and on either side are tents containing the various Olympic events, so you can just wander from tent to tent and see rowing, swimming, running, badminton, Bob Costas, etc.
In fact the Olympics are spread out over a large area, and if you don't know what you're doing, you can get seriously lost. Fortunately my sportswriter wife and I are both Olympic veterans this is her twelfth one, and my sixth - so we were able, within three hours of arriving, to get seriously lost.
This happened to us in London's East End, where a major part of the Olympics will take place. The East End is part of London in much the same way that Pittsburgh is part of New York City; it is a lonnngggg way from the city center. Somehow we wound up wandering around out there, completely lost, lugging heavy backpacks and wearing media credentials the size of doormats.
We kept asking passers-by how to get to central London, and they were unfailingly nice, every single person stopping and patiently giving us directions. That was the good news. The bad news was, we could not understand these directions. This was partly because jet lag had reduced our IQs to crustacean level. But it was also because of the London street system, under which no street ever goes in the same direction or keeps the same name for more than 35 yards. At that point it veers off in a new direction under a new name, assuming a whole new identity under the London Street Witness Protection Program.
So these nice Londoners would have to give directions without referring to street names, which are worthless. They'd wave in a vague direction and say something like, "You go that way, then keep to your right, and you'll come to a pub, the Prince of something, and then you go left but you're still keeping sort of to the right, and then after a bit you'll come to another pub, I believe the Fife and Plunger, and you go sort of diagonal across there for a bit and then turn left, and I think you can get a bus."
We'd listen to these directions, then say "thank you," then trudge off in despair, credentials flapping, knowing that we would never find this place, and even if we did, we would never take a bus, because we are American, and Americans do not take buses. We're never sure how to get on them or how to pay, and we're always afraid they'll suddenly go in the wrong direction. I'm not saying Americans are unadventurous: We tamed the West and went to the Moon. But we did not do these things in buses.
Eventually, by sheer random chance, we found a train station and got back to central London, where, as a professional journalist trained to make sweeping unsubstantiated generalizations, I assessed the mood of the city on the eve of the Olympics. I would describe the city's mood as cautiously festive. If the Olympics were being held in my city, Miami, we would be in total party mode by now. There would be drunks dancing naked in the streets. And those would be police officers.
But London is quieter, maybe a little nervous. There's a lot of security. You see soldiers everywhere, and the government has installed surface-to-air missiles, including some on the roof of an occupied apartment building. Really. It's called the Fred Wigg Tower, and the tenants are NOT happy about having missiles on their roof. I don't blame them. When you choose an apartment building, you're looking for many qualities good location, adequate parking, etc. but as a rule you are not looking for a building that might get into armed combat with an airplane.
But if all goes as planned, there will be no need for the Fred Wigg Tower to shoot anything down. If all goes as planned, these Olympics will be peaceful and fun, and I'll be sending you detailed, fact-filled reports on the various athletic events, assuming I can find them. I plan to start by locating the Fife and Plunger.