Anyone who lives in Manhattan and has a pullout couch receives a shocking number of weekend visitors.
When friends from Toronto came to visit last weekend, my boyfriend convinced me that insisting we stay home and watch Olympics for three days wouldn't earn me any hostess prizes. Consequently, Saturday night found a group of us having post-dinner drinks in a dark bar near Union Square.
The bar was packed with people watching the NBA Slam Dunk Contest on massive flat-screen televisions, but I scoped out a single 25-inch TV, awkwardly suspended in a corner by the pool table, that was showing the women's freestyle moguls from Cypress Mountain. We wedged ourselves in a nearby table and watched, cheering for impressive jumps and gasping at some equally impressive falls. We shared complicit smiles with three scruffy guys by the pool table, the only other people in the bar watching the skiing. The reactions of our two groups were completely out of sync with the NBA-watchers in the rest of the bar -- we cheered wildly while they sat silent and vice versa.
After a huge cry over a particularly painful-looking tumble, I heard someone behind us mutter, "What are those people watching over there?"
I was floored.
The Olympics have been front-page news in Vancouver for seven years. We've had seven years of funding battles, construction zones, protests and ticket controversies. Seven years of logo unveilings, mascot unveilings, torch unveilings, and medal unveilings. Seven years of praying the weather would comply (ummmm...), hoping that the opening ceremonies would go off without a glitch (errrr....) and dreaming that Canada could finally win its first goal on home soil (!!!). Even those people in Vancouver who oppose the games, still have a lot to say about them.
After seven years in an Olympic echo chamber, returning to the real world comes as a pretty big shock. There are people who -- gasp -- don't care about the Olympics? Really?
Actually, NBC's television ratings are up compared to the 2006 Games in Torino. The first two nights of Vancouver coverage averaged 30 million viewers apiece compared to 22.6 for Torino, and more than 97 million Americans have seen at least a few minutes of the coverage. Those in the know say that ratings have been boosted by the fact that Vancouver is only a few hours behind the Eastern U.S. allowing NBC to show events live in prime time.
But compare those ratings to Canada, a country obsessed with the Games right now. Friday night's Opening Ceremonies broke records when more than 26 million people caught at least part of the evening's coverage. That means nearly 80 percent of Canadians tuned in. And you can bet the percentage is higher among Vancouverites. Everyone I know is furiously tweeting or Facebooking, posting photos and calling me to tell me about the events they saw.
Though undoubtedly I would love to be in Vancouver, soaking up the Olympic-saturated atmosphere, I'm enjoying being a minority out here. There's a a semi-underground Olympic appreciation movement, a palpable sense of camaraderie when you do find someone else who obsessively follows the Games.
There are telltale signs, if you're looking. Once in a while, you catch sight of an Olympic t-shirt when a colleague takes off his sweater, and there are a few people who click onto the NBC Olympic website for updates throughout the day. Bring up Lindsey Vonn's shin injury to see who wanders and away and who excitedly speculates about what it could mean for her medal hopes.
I now have a core group of Olympic diehards at the ready for serious discussions about importance of Evgeni Plushenko's return to skating, Lindsay Jacobellis's second Olympic disappointment, or even the clown pants that the Norwegian men's curling team are using to numb the competition. The confusion and apathy these topics generate among the larger population only serves to make our Olympic bond closer.
So, to anyone who feels they're the only one who blubbers during medal ceremonies, anyone who gets frustrated at NBC's tape-delay, anyone who knows not only that the Olympic mascots have a marmot sidekick, but also that his name is Mukmuk...you're not alone.
Next in this series:
(Hockey) Pride Comes Before a Fall
Previously in this series:
The Vancouver Games: U.S. And Canada Are Neighbors, Not Twins