Impression of Salt Lake City

Posted: Friday, February 08, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY A tapestry of people and scenes as this city gets ready to host the 2002 Winter Olympics:

A group of men get on a shuttle bus. They begin to converse in German.

The conversation is fast and furious. The only words a nearby traveler could understand -- with the normal punctuated German emphasis -- was "Britney Spears."

Salt Lake International Airport has been bustling. Tonight, it will be one of the least-active places in the United States. The skies over Salt Lake City will be closed to air traffic and the airport will be shut down during the three hours of tonight's Opening Ceremonies.

Twice as many fighter aircraft are on alert for the ceremonies -- and for the entire period of the Games -- as were on alert Sept. 11.

In seeking the plaza where gold medal ceremonies will be held each night, this reporter misread a sign and made a wrong turn.

A soldier, in full battle garb, carrying an M-16 approached from a sentinel box: "May I ask where you are going, sir?''

When I told him, he said I would have to turn around and take a longer and more circuitous route. "No one, sir, is getting past that gate over there."

I didn't have to be told twice.

The Main Press Center and the venues here have several levels of fencing and barricades and sentinel stations at every corner and gate, plus armed patrols.

The solidiers have their game faces on -- big time.

A group of native Americans was practicing in front of a teepee by a security fence -- for one of their daily performances at the medals plaza. One woman was taking pictures of the others in the group during a traditional dance.

"I'm waiting until this soldier walks by (on patrol outside the fence) so I can get him in the picture too," she told the group as they posed. The soldier, seeing all this, smiled and even chuckled before he snapped back into his game face.

Outside the Mormon Temple -- as tourists walked down one of the busiest streets in town -- a street preacher boomed, "This world is full of fornication."

People kept walking. None of the two dozen people even looked up.

On one of the interstates leading into town, there are three large smokestacks bellowing steam from a manufacturing plant. Hanging between them are two large American flags.

June Johnstone, one of the thousands of volunteers helping the media for these games, struck up a casual conversation with bystanders at a bus stop. "I saw Bill Cosby today,'' she said. "He was right there at a shopping center. He stopped and talked to some of us. Wow, Bill Cosby."

Cosby, an official spokesman for Jell-O, was in to open a museum here for the wiggly concoction. Apparently, Utah lawmakers with nothing terribly pressing one day, designed Jell-O at the official snack food of Utah. If you're a stats freak, the favorite Jell-O flavor in Utah is lime.

David McCollum, columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the Winter Olympics.

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