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Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

You’ll pay to play at SLC

Merchants charging for everything during Games

February 19, 2002

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— This quaint ski-resort village in the heart of the Olympic action has gone out of its way to make you, the visitor, feel right at home, assuming that your home charges you $25 to park. You can also buy pizza from a sidewalk stand here for $5 a slice, and a bottle of genuine water for $4. The going price for air is $3 per breath.

I'm kidding, of course. Air is only $1.50 per breath. But I'm not kidding when I say that the main Olympic event here appears to be the Retail Merchants' 50 Kilometer Price Hike.

Not that this has reduced the crowds. The main street of Park City is jammed day and night with thousands of people walking around in high-quality ski attire, as if at any moment they're going to hit the slopes. In fact, though, nobody here is skiing. The major participatory sports are:

1. Trying to find a restaurant that might possibly have a table available before August.

2. Shouting into cell phones in an effort to locate friends who are also wandering in the dense crowd ("... OK, YOU GO PAST SEVEN STORES SELLING QUAINT YET EXPENSIVE LITTLE GIFTS, AND THEN NINE JEWELRY STORES, AND THEN SIX MORE QUAINT LITTLE EXPENSIVE GIFT STORES, AND THEN LOOK FOR YOUR FOURTH REAL-ESTATE OFFICE ON THE LEFT, AND YOU'LL SEE ME. I'M WEARING SKI ATTIRE.")

3. Stopping every now and then in the middle of the street and shouting, "Whooo!" to indicate how much festive Olympic-style fun you are having.

4. Standing in line to buy hats.

This last activity is the big one. The public here at the Olympics has gone INSANE for the beret-style hats worn by the U.S. Olympic team in the Opening Ceremony. People are waiting in line, outdoors, for upward for three hours just to get into a store where they can buy these hats for $19.95 apiece. Out on the street, the hats are going for as much as $100, which is nearly twice what you have to pay here for a hot dog.

Why are these hats so popular? For the simple reason that they make you look really sharp, provided that (a) you are a member of the U.S. Olympic team, and (b) you are at the Opening Ceremony. If you're a member of the general public, just walking around, this hat makes you look like a cross between Speedy Alka-Seltzer and Monica Lewinsky. Even if you're a man.

But everybody is buying the berets like crazy anyway, because ... well, because everybody ELSE is buying them. People proudly wear their berets everywhere here, including, I bet, in the shower. When they leave Utah, they'll wear them home, where, at some point, they'll see themselves in the mirror. Then they'll take off their berets and never wear them again, except maybe on Halloween.

But that's what the Winter Olympics are all about: temporary insanity. Here in the Olympic Bubble of Derangement, we truly believe that Utah is the focus of the world's attention, and that it actually matters who won the bronze in the two-man bobsled event. It's an exciting feeling, and I wish there was some way I could share it with you.

Wait! I know! I'll sell you my hat.

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