It Could Happen to You
I GOT TO the Ramirez family just in time. It was 20 minutes before the
men's gymnastics compulsories were scheduled to begin at the Georgia Dome and
dark, nasty thunder clouds were moving toward us across Centennial Olympic
Park. Perhaps even more ominous, a scalper with dark shades, day-old facial
growth and a walkie-talkie on his belt had Team Ramirez tightly in his talons.
This family of four, which had driven six hours to see the Olympics from their
home in Pensacola, Fla., was contemplating the 420 buck offer (they go for $80
each retail) this guy had made for seats together near the floor. Luis, his
wife Janice and their kids, Luis Jr., 8, and Michele, 6, had looks on their
faces like someone had just stolen their Christmas presents.
At first, the Ramirezes were suspicious of the Ticket Fairy's motives.
"Um, we were, but they're just too expensive," says Janice, the scraggly looking scalper staring me down over her shoulder. "It's a little depressing. The joy of being here is really unbelievable. It's beautiful. But we can't afford a lot of the tickets and the ones we do find are not in sets of four, so we might get in but we won't be able to watch the Olympics as a family."
Now they can.
Thanks to an idea from a colleague of mine and the giving nature of the person in charge of our tickets, I have four prime seats, together, near the floor, that I'm willing to give the Ramirez family for exactly four smiles.
"This ain't, uh, nothing religious or weird is it?" asks a skeptical Luis Sr., who, like the rest of us, has been bombarded with religious pamphlets by zealots in front of every venue. "`Cause you can't be for real."
Men's compulsories...or the fires of hell?
"I LOVE GYMNASTICS," screams Michele, who, along with her brother, begins to bounce and tug on their dad's shirt.
I produce the ducats. They all do double-takes as I fan them out like a poker hand, exposing the gold Olympic holograms that ensure authenticity on each ticket.
"This is like a dream come true," says Janice, hand over mouth. "It's the thrill of a lifetime. It's, it's, like some kind of incredible birthday or something."
Well, kinda. I mention, again, that it's only men's compulsories. But the Ramirez clan keeps beaming. The scalper, on the other hand, is not pleased. He's now a deep shade of red, looking like he might like to take a poke at me. Bring it on scalper boy, for I am the Ticket Fairy.
To the delight of the Ramirez Clan, Dave "Ed McMahon" Fleming thwarts one of Atlanta's ubiquitous scalpers.
We shoo him away and pose for a quick photo (because Mr. Ticket Fairy never passes up an opportunity to get more pictures of himself on the Net) then the Ramirezes join hands and skip into the venue. As it turns out, it really was their lucky day. Led by the performance of John Roethlisberger, the U.S. team came out of nowhere during the compulsories, which count for 50% of the overall score, to place fifth heading into tonight's final. The athletes left the floor to chants of USA! USA! USA!, no doubt led by the Ramirezes.
Feeling like a reformed Grinch dancing around Hooville, I march back to the office to find more spare tickets and another family to keep the Ramirezes company. I head back to the street where I find Walter and Brenda Airich, of Roswell, Georgia. Their sons, Jordan, 5, and Andre, 8, are dressed in matching red, white and blue hats and shirts. Jordan has a Blow Pop in his mouth when I hand him his ticket.
"Sanks a wat for za sickets, Sorts Illussrated."
Photographs by Peter Kay