Aide stands out during journey
We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the Beijing Olympics to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.
BEIJING -- I had 10 minutes. Ten minutes to get from our office at one end of the Olympic Green to the Olympic Hospitality Center at the other, where six tickets to Opening Ceremony for my colleagues awaited.
All I had to do was pick them up. The offices were less than a mile apart. May Tang of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee (BOCOG) was standing by, but she was leaving at 8:30 p.m. The clock was ticking.
8:20 p.m.: I exit the press center through the back door, a short cut, I think. It is 32°C (roughly 165°F) and a tad muggy (like Papua). Because of my unnatural need for pockets, I am wearing a blue blazer -- only the third member of the Olympic Family to wear one this sweltering evening (Prince Albert and equestrienne Beezie Madden the others). The short cut deposits me on a deserted road between the press center and the fencing arena. I am lost.
8:21 p.m.: I must look as helpless as I am because a BOCOG volunteer on a moped pulls up. I explain that I am looking for the Olympic Hospitality Center. He offers to take me to the Olympic Hospital Center. I first think that he has misunderstood me, but given my extreme diaphoretic state, I realize he probably hasn't. I explain where I want to go again and he makes a call on his cell phone and beckons me onto the back of his moped. The space behind the seat is slightly narrower than I am, but I squeeze in, scrotum be damned. I call May and she tells us to head north.
8:23 p.m.: We speed down the midway of the Olympic Green, drawing looks from other BOCOG volunteers and suspicious guards. Reaching a security checkpoint, the guards let us go no farther on the moped and we dismount. Not sure which direction to run, my guide calls his friend who works in the hospitality department. Or the hospital department. He says to run east.
8:25 p.m.: After 300 yards, there is no sight of a hospitality center. My guide calls his friend and then apologizes to me. "He made a mistake before. He is a little bit drunk." (Well, it's 8:25 somewhere!) We turn around and head west, the tail of my blazer flapping like a tattered spinnaker.
8:29 p.m.: Off in the distance, through the perpetual Beijing haze (have you heard about the haze here?), I can make out the faint yellow sign of the Hospitality Center. I bid my guide farewell and offer him a Sports Illustrated pin. He politely refuses, saying that he'll just see me around the Green. His job, for which he is paid zero, is not to guide disoriented journalists, much less to give them rides or to run alongside them through the steamy night. He may not be able to find its center, but he knows a lot about Olympic hospitality.
8:30 p.m.: I call May from the security gate and she comes to meet me. She escorts me past impassive guards and brings me inside the BOCOG tent, literally and figuratively. She offers me a bottle of cool water.
This is a difficult place, Beijing, The air is poisonous, your house can be razed from around you, and if you complain, you will likely be imprisoned. So fearful of what personal and political freedom might unleash, the government brooks nothing they cannot control. But the people of China are not the People's Republic of China.
My memory of Beijing will be of the extraordinary kindness of one volunteer.