There is a theory—not widely held, to be sure—that the 1972 Munich Olympiad will never, happen. The theory was expressed most recently in a Munich beer cellar, one of those smoky places with tables on sawhorses and fat, off-key waiters and draft beer that is sold not only by the yard but by the 200 and even the 1,500 meters.
"You know," my friend said, "there's a theory that the '72 Olympics will never happen."
"Not widely held, I trust," I said. "But go on."
"Well," he said, "you've driven here, and you know what a huge traffic jam Munich is, and what a bunch of crazy drivers the Munichers are. Why, I know a man who went out and bought a big Land Rover; he says that's the only way he can get the right-of-way."
"Yes," I said. "It's awful. As bad as Manhattan."
"Worse than Manhattan. Because all the high-speed roads lead straight into Munich, like the spokes of a wheel."
"Which can only mean that at Olympic time...."
"Exactly!" the friend said. "At Olympic time, 50,000 Americans will fly to Europe and rent cars, and 200,000 Europeans will decide to drive here, and they'll all head toward Munich at top speed and Boom!—they'll converge on the Bahnhof and there'll be a huge explosion and that'll be the end of Munich. There'll be nothing left but the Englischer Garten."
Fantasy has always overwhelmed me, especially when it is presented with a straight face, so I withdrew into the late John Lardner's favorite, all-purpose retort: "I wouldn't be surprised."
Having completed a driving tour of Europe, my first in four years, I wouldn't be surprised at anything that happens on European roads. Continental driving, never anodynic, has become a wheeled nightmare, at least by American standards. Traffic densities have gone right up the graph along with European prosperity, and safety tolerances have gone right down. In Paris, minicars whirl around the Place de la Concorde seven and eight abreast, the space between them roughly equal to the thickness of a ball-park hamburger. Parisians joke about the pedestrians who had to be airlifted off a traffic island by the Obelisk, and two others who starved to death waiting for a break in the flow.