I will remember Atlanta for its omnibus buses: city buses, tour buses, school buses, minibuses...sundry buses bused in from around the country, 1,650 buses in all of Atlanta, and each of these buses busing fans, athletes and journalists nowhere. Of Atlanta's 3,600 bus drivers, 10% came from outside the city—came to the Games, quite literally, on a busman's holiday—and simply didn't know their way around. But in the spirit of international brotherhood, things worked out.
Geography-bee winners these busboys (and girls) were not. "Canada," I heard a minibus driver say one day to a Canadian passenger on board, "is a beautiful city." The world heard about the Georgian judo champion who missed his weigh-in (and a chance to defend his gold medal) because his bus driver got lost...and of the frustrated British rowers who were reduced to standing in front of an oncoming bus, Tiananmen Square-like, as its driver bore down on them like Sandra Bullock in Speed...and of the apparent agoraphobe, afraid to drive on interstates, who sobbingly abandoned her busload of people en route to an event.
Of course, the buses themselves were breaking down like Barbara Walters interviewees. As bus terminals filled with terminal buses, I switched to taxis. At one stoplight a black BMW pulled up next to my cab, its shotgun-seat window rolled down silently, and its driver asked not for Grey Poupon but for something more elusive. "How do I get to Lucky Street?" he inquired. Was this some perverse pickup line, or was he simply looking for a shortcut to success? "There's no substitute for hard work," I was about to reply when the cabbie told him that Lucky Street—actually, Luckie Street—was but a block away.
I never did get the lay of the land in Atlanta and didn't dare navigate its streets on my own. My rental car was towed from its parking spot on the sixth day of the Games and spent the next fortnight in a circle of hell called the ATOW lot, where an employee extorted a sum just less than the car's original sticker price for its safe return. The man then addressed me through a change-slot in the impenetrable window.
"Sports Illustrated?" he said, regarding my press credential through a slab of bulletproof glass. He looked down dolefully, pounded an official stamp onto my receipt, slid it through the slot and said, "Guess I won't be gettin' Sportsman of the Year."
The remark caught me off guard, and I laughed. Then he laughed. And as a pair of impatient Brazilian sportswriters looked on, the ATOW man and I sort of high-fived: Our hands were pressed to the bulletproof glass, a poignant scene from a prison movie.