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.