Archive for the ‘Winter Olympics’ Category

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Bob and Kevin followed me everywhere.  They seemed to think that the twenty five or so words I had managed to learn in Japanese would keep us safe and help us to not get hopelessly lost.  I took the silly dictionary with me everywhere but it was more my keen ear for subtleties within accents and willingness to make a fool of myself until I got it right that made me the best choice Bob and Kevin had when it came to available tour guides and translators.  We were good friends before we got to Nagano anyway, so it made sense that we would tool around together.

Of all the Olympics I have been to, Nagano will forever remain my favorite.  It was my first, Bob’s and Kevin’s third.  We all worked for CBS.  They had been to Albertville in France and Lillehammer in Norway before I started working there.  It had been a dream of mine to work the Games so when the opportunity arose to be one of only three stage managers taken to Japan by the network, I was thrilled.  As a kid I had hoped to be an Olympian someday but I wasn’t a good enough athlete and the dedication needed just wasn’t there so going as part of the media was the next best thing.

I arrived in Tokyo on a brisk January evening.  It was dinner time and I had only this one night to experience the big city before being whisked away the following morning to the mountains where the games would be held.  Bob and Kevin were still in New York and wouldn’t arrive for another five days so Nick and Mary headed down to the subway with me to make sure I got to the neighborhood I had in mind before scurrying off on their own planned adventure.  We took the train that, according to the map, would get me closest to where I wanted to be, but I wasn’t sure I had made it to Shinjuku until I saw all the rainbow flags hanging from the low buildings.  Nick and Mary waved goodbye and told me to be careful.  They went in search of sushi and live music.  I checked out the gay bars.

Shinjuku is like the West Village of Tokyo.  I went into a lesbian bar that was the size of a big walk-in closet and paid the equivalent of almost $50.00 for the cover charge.  When I sat down at the bar, all eyes were upon me.  With a smile, I ordered an Asahi and it arrived with a steaming, complimentary bowl of delicious vegetable soup.  The bartender spoke some English.  She could tell I was from New York.  I told her I was there for the Games and she told the three other patrons this.  I heard a lot of indecipherable words but somewhere in the middle of what she said to them I distinctly heard “CBS” and “Olympics” and watched them all nod in recognition.  They proudly showed me photos from the gay pride march that had taken place in Tokyo the previous June.

The next bar was bigger but only slightly.  Again I paid the crazy cover charge and again my beer came with a delicious bowl of soup.  It’s the custom.  And this bar was noisier.  There were more customers.  There were more bartenders.  There was karaoke.  I later learned that there was karaoke almost everywhere you went in Japan, even on tour buses and in fast food restaurants.  The cute bartender spoke decent English and asked where I was from.  I happily told her Brooklyn and she happily handed over the karaoke song book and insisted that I pick something to sing.  And I do love to sing.  Before I became half deaf and I could actually hear what was spewing from my mouth I had a pretty decent voice.  But I like to sing torch songs, like Ella and Lena and even kd lang.  There was none of that in the song book.  All I could find was Over The Rainbow by Judy Garland, so that’s what I picked.  We all had a good laugh when I was finished.

In one corner, on the big front window bench, there was a young lesbian who was passed out from drinking.  Her concerned friends, rather than taking her home in a taxi, kept escorting her to the bathroom, presumably so she could puke her guts out.  Then they would gently deposit her into her corner seat where she would promptly fall over and pass out again.  It was after 1AM but no one showed signs of slowing down or getting ready to head home, even though it was the middle of the week.  The bartender admitted that her customers would not leave until after three, get perhaps 4 hours of sleep, work a full day at a boring office job and be right back at the bars the next evening.  I thought, if I tried that as a way of life, I’d be dead from exhaustion in no time.

Once Bob and Kevin arrived in Nagano we started going everywhere together.  Our hours were the best I have ever had for any of my Olympic tours.  We were on the noon to midnight shift but since all we were there to do was CBS This Morning, our director would sometimes tell us not to show up until 4 or 5PM.  We got to see a lot of hockey games once the flame had been lit and we were generally wrapped by 11, when the show ended on the east coast of the States at 9 in the morning.  Our industrious stagehands, who had been there for months building and lighting the studio, had found an amazing restaurant called Zen and the whole crew went there for late dinner almost every night.

In the mornings, Bob and Kevin and I got to see a lot of the unique and exotic places the region had to offer.  We took the train to Kobayashi to see the snow monkeys and sit in the extremely hot water of the local onsen or hot spring.  It took me 20 minutes to get in and then I only lasted a little more than three and had to get out.  My skin, beet red, felt invigorated and smooth.  I took them to the temple right in Nagano and helped them walk through the pitch dark, curving downstairs hallway to find the ornament in the wall which, if found and pulled, would lead to salvation.  We went to Mongolian barbeque and a small restaurant everyone called sushi choo-choo because of how the plates of fish came out of the kitchen and floated by the counter on a conveyor belt, available to be plucked up and devoured.  I don’t like sushi so I went for the novelty and ate mostly California rolls with lots of wasabi and ginger.  And Japanese beer, of course.  No saki for this lightweight!

Our best adventure, though, came high up in the mountains, reached by bus through curving and very scary narrow roads, at the bobsleigh and luge venue.  The three of us, known by this time as the Mod Squad, got off the bus and headed to the press entrance.  We had tickets but we thought we could beat the long lines by flashing our credentials.  Bob and I breezed through security and started walking, figuring Kevin was right behind us.  He wasn’t.  We turned back to see him being detained and pointed at by a security guard, while another held his arm to stop his progress.  The first thing Bob and I thought of was, oh wow, not here.  Not in this beautiful, ancient country.  Racism, really?  Because Kevin’s skin is brown?  We breezed through but they are holding him?  We looked at each other in disbelief and started to make our way back to the gates.  Another security guard, this one with more medals and stripes on his uniform than the others, rushed to our side and beckoned us, all three of us, to follow him.  His broken English was as urgent as he could make it, given the difficulty he had with the language.  “Come now to me,” he nearly shouted.  And he had a rifle slung over his shoulder, so we did.

He lead us to the side of a one-story storage building where security guards were coming and going and scurrying about.  There was a row of low hedges adjacent to it, running alongside the road we had traveled to enter the venue.  The guard, still speaking urgently, stopped the three of us, got down to a squatting position and told us as we towered over him, “You all do like this.  Now!”  We thought for a moment that we were a part of some sick joke.  I flashed back to my days of watching Candid Camera.  But there was that rifle, and that tone in his voice.  We stared at him, confused.  He immediately got that we didn’t understand and did his best to continue.  “Emperor son is coming.  If police see you, they will shoot you.”

Oh.  That we understood.  We definitely didn’t want to be shot so we joined the officer near the ground in our best imitation of tribal squats.  “Good,” he said.  “Now can’t see you.”  And, sure enough, a minute later a giant black limo drove through the gates where we had just been, attached Rising Sun flags flapping with the speed of the vehicle.  In an instant it was gone, up the hill and around the curve, presumably to some cushy luxury box where the occupants could watch the event in warmth and style.

“Okay,” the guard said finally.  We got up and slowly walked back to the path leading to the bobsleigh track.  He followed us, apologizing for all the confusion.  Apparently, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And Kevin hadn’t been delayed at all because of the color of his skin.  He just, by being a few seconds behind Bob and me, had tried to get in a pinch later than the time the guards had set to close off the entrance in anticipation of the arrival of the prince and his wife.  We watched the two-man sledding competition in complete awe of the speed and the noise as the athletes flew by us, so close on the ice that we almost could have reached out and touched them.  But every now and then we glanced at each other and chuckled.  “Police will shoot you,” became our private little joke for the rest of our stay in Japan.  And sometimes, when I’m lucky enough to run into Kevin at the CBS broadcast center, we relive the story and laugh all over again.  And then we get sad.  Bob’s been gone at least three years now.  And it’s just no fun to be Julie and Linc without sweet Mike.  Our Mod Squad days are over.

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The Journal

Posted: October 12, 2013 in Journals, Travel, Winter Olympics
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Image  About six weeks ago, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the realm of blogging by the wonderful women in my coaching group.  They told me I had a lot to say that needed to be shared with the world.  Someone even said it would be selfish of me to keep my stories and scraps of memoir writing to myself.  I argued that I didn’t like this new way of “publishing” and that anyone could have a blog.  I wanted to be recognized as a writer, yes, but I wanted to try to do it the old fashioned way.  I wanted some smart New York editor to tell me I was worthy.  I wanted to appear in print.  My friends didn’t care what I wanted.  What they wanted was for me to blog.  I gave in.

I am not normally that much of a pushover and when you consider just how long they had to work on me to get me to agree, I guess I can’t really be considered a pushover at all.  I think I simply got tired of hearing them insist.  When I was in college, a favorite professor told me I could be one of the writers of the 20th century if I would just write every day.  But I was lazy, so I didn’t.  And now it’s too late for that to come true, considering that here we are, well into the second decade of the 21st century.  Another professor, after reading my initial essay assignment out loud to the class and giving me my first A+ as a freshman, tossed me out of English 101 after only three lessons, saying, “You don’t need this class, Kim.  And don’t bother taking English 102, either.  I’ll fix it with the department.”

All of this came just months after being voted Most Literary in my high school yearbook, along with a nice young man named Peter.  So I’m willing to accept that I’m an okay writer.  I’m not the writer that I would like to be, though.  I think I could be someday if I could stop being so lazy and really put some work into it.  If I make posting something on my blog every day look relatively easy it’s only because I have been cheating.  This, what I am writing right now, is being written hours before it will become a blog post tomorrow morning.  But about 75% of what I have posted so far has come directly from the journals I have been keeping for years.  I have been rifling through them for interesting ideas, thoughts, television memories and pieces of the memoir I am trying to conjure.  Whatever I have borrowed from the past I have re-written, of course, but having all that stuff socked away has made it less complicated for me to post something every day.  Eventually, I suppose I will run out.  When that happens, my posts will appear less frequently.

One thing that would help me to continue posting something every day is finding the missing journal.  I don’t keep a journal all the time.  It’s a sporadic activity for me, quite often brought about by travel.  My oldest one is from when I was 14 and in the 9th grade.  I still have it and it’s hilarious to look through but if I told you its title I’d have to kill you.  Okay, okay, I named it Hey, I’m A Teenager.  Now you know.  I promise not to kill you.  Just don’t tease me about it, please.  I was a teenager for crying out loud!

I kept writing after that.  Mostly, through high school and college and beyond, I wrote bad poetry and science fiction short stories.  There are 5 poems of which I am truly proud.  Three have appeared here.  Number four will appear next month.  I’m looking for the fifth, another sonnet.  I don’t care that they’re not good enough for the New Yorker.  I like them.  Five.  Out of more than 300.

There’s also a sci-fi novel I wrote as a sophomore in college, because I was bored in a geology class and needed something interesting to do.  It’s 60,000 words long and obviously written by a 19-year-old young woman who had fun ideas about the future and space travel but not one millimeter of physics knowledge to make the story plausible.  It’s in a box somewhere and I have not peeked at it in decades.

My next foray into journal-keeping came when I was the stage manager of the Morton Downey, Jr. Show and we did weeks, here and there, on the road.    Detroit, Houston, Kansas City.  I wound all of those journals together to form a bad book called A Dyke Does Downey.  The subtitle was going to be Blow Jobs Don’t Count, after how Mort would explain to anyone who would listen just how he managed to remain “faithful” to his wife.  Quite a character, that Mort.

After that I stopped writing for a while.  Then CBS asked me, in 1998, to go to Nagano to cover the Olympic Winter Games.  I was thrilled, both to be covering the Olympics and to be going to Japan.  I knocked two wishes off my bucket list in one glorious month.  Before I left, my friend DML gave me a beautiful journal and encouraged me to write in it every day, reminding me that that’s what writers do.  Oh, yeah, I thought, and happily added it to my carry-on messenger bag.

We lived in Park Slope then.  I filled that Nagano journal to the brim with stories, drawings, pictures and stickers.  The only drawing that pops up in my memory now is one of me, in stick figure form with my winking DJ logo face, seated at a restaurant table with the hugest bottle of beer I had ever seen.  I think it was an Asahi, but I can’t be certain.  The only actual story I can recall is the one about the day KB, Bob and I went to the Bobsleigh venue, up in the mountains, and almost got shot by the police.  I’ll write that one again someday, with whatever details I can remember.  There was another thread in that journal about how Martha Stewart kept staring at me, smiling my way and bringing me small presents of fresh, native-to-Nagano apples and grapes, but those details are gone.

Two years later, with a toddler in tow, we moved from Park Slope to Sunset Park, to a tiny frame house on 33rd and 5th.  I know I packed that Nagano journal so it would make the journey with us.  And ten years ago, when we moved here, I’m pretty sure I packed up everything meaningful and brought it all to this leafy suburb.  For the whole ten years I pictured that journal somewhere in the attic or the basement, tucked away in a box or a crate with other books and papers and when I had to sell my house earlier this year the one thing I looked forward to while going through everything to decide what to keep and what to jettison was coming across that beautiful journal again.  I was filled with anticipation every time I opened a likely box of printed materials, notebooks and papery objects.  I kept thinking, this one, it has to be in this one.  But it wasn’t.  There was no Nagano journal in any of those boxes upon boxes upon boxes that sat idle for 10 years with stuff inside that we didn’t really need but also didn’t want to throw out.  I found all my poetry, all my short stories, all my pictures.  No journal.  And I miss it so.  Sometimes I wake up in a sweat thinking that I’ve misplaced something seriously important, like one of my children.  Or the dog or all my tax returns.  And then I remember that it’s the journal.  And I’m really glad that it’s not a kid, not even the dog, but I’d go through 100 tax audits after losing all my important papers if I could just have that journal back.  I think you would have liked it, too.

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2/23/2006     I think, if this were a chapter in a novel, that this chapter would be called, “Zombies Eating Ice Cream.”  What I’ve seen so far today is absolute proof that the people here at the International Broadcast Center have hit the wall and are ready to go home.  At least twice an hour now I can see someone aimlessly walking away from the Commissary with a vapid, glazed-over look and a fistful of Italian gelato.  These people are totally fried.  Crispy.  I am, too, but I’m trying really hard to stay upbeat.  It’s day 14 of the Games and we have all been working our butts off.  Luckily I have not yet been abandoned by my sense of humor.

Earlier today I learned that our interview a few days ago with Sarah Hughes almost didn’t make it to the show because her agent contacted Dick Ebersol afterward and asked for a $2,500 fee for her.  He was then promptly escorted from the IBC by security.  An hour later he was back, apologizing, and the interview got inserted back into the show.  It seems she wants payment more than exposure.  Counterintuitive of that is her insistence that she be asked to serve as a commentator on figs for the network.  She was told she needs to spend a little time on cable sports first, learning the ropes, and then maybe she’d be ready for Vancouver in 2010.  I think, right now, that she should just concentrate on graduating from Yale.

Another crazy thing that happened today was a bomb scare in one of the traffic tunnels near the IBC.  Apparently a car stalled mid-way through the tunnel and the driver just left it there, probably to get help.  The Polizia found it and decided to blow it open in case it was loaded with explosives.  Um, right.  Let’s fight fire with fire!  I guess it’s a really good thing there was nothing dangerous inside.  So some poor schmo lost his car today.

I walked up to the IBC after shopping nearby at the mall that used to be the Fiat factory and there were cop cars and photographers gathered near the entrance to the tunnel.  Tom Brokaw came up behind me and asked me if I knew what was going on.  I told him I thought it was extra security because the president of the IOC was visiting the building but he, old newshound that he is, said he’d heard something about a bomb scare.  We figured we’d find out sooner or later but meanwhile had a very nice, quick conversation on our way in.  He really is as nice as everyone says he is.

We have to do another interview with speed skater Shani Davis today.  We couldn’t air the first one because we found out shortly after we did it that shortly before we did it he had had a sort of confrontation with a teammate at a press conference.  The teammate was mad at him for pulling out of a relay race that they could have won if Shani had participated.  He called Shani selfish.  The media types tried to egg them on to a fight but eventually they kind of made up.  The interview got ditched for the press conference, though, so now that the air is clear, Shani will be on again, with his updated perspective on things.

Speaking of clear air, or lack thereof, I must say I am getting very tired of Dick’s malodorous cigar.  He is a broadcasting genius and deserves to be comfortable while he runs everything and gets very little sleep, but I don’t think that gives him the right to ignore the rules and do whatever he wants.  I mean, there are “vietato fumare” signs everywhere you look.  Maybe someone should translate that into English for him.

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It can be a lot of fun hanging out with former Olympic athletes like Picabo Street and Paul Wylie.  Picabo was in a great and talkative mood today and started telling some of us in the studio about the psychological games top-notch Alpine skiers can play with each other.  She said there was a woman who used to slide her skis across the top of Picabo’s skis while they were waiting for their turns to come up.  Picabo let her get away with it a few times and then finally told this woman she was an idiot.  And she told us how the German coaches used to line the course and scream out dis-information as their skiers came down to try to throw all the other competitors off.  I guess the German skiers knew to ignore them.  I wonder if they ever succeeded in psyching anyone out that way? 

Picabo also talked about her horrible crash in Switzerland and said she was somewhat able to control her tumbling to minimize the damage to her body and avoid being paralyzed for the rest of her life.  “All” she did was break her left femur and blow out her right knee.  Then she mentioned how she would sometimes blow away all the gates on a run so the next skier would have to wait while they were fixed.  Kind of like calling for a timeout just before the opposing placekicker attempts a game-winning field goal in the final 3 seconds of a football game.  Top-rated athletes are just not like the rest of us.  It’s why they play….  And we watch.

Of course, the big news today is the horrible death of the young luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, from the Republic of Georgia.  We showed footage of his training run on Wednesday, where he lost control of his sled and almost crashed, so it was clear he was having a hard time with the ice.  The luge track here in Vancouver is considered the fastest and most dangerous the world has ever seen.  Many sliders have complained about how treacherous it is and now that there’s been a tragic accident, it’s been modified.  Apparently the wall Nodar flew over has been made higher and the support poles he hit have been padded.  Too bad nobody thought to do this yesterday.

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