We enjoyed every minute of the summer of 1973. The sun shone every weekend we went camping, and we camped a lot with our college crew. I was in the last couple of months of graduate school, finishing up on my master’s degree. Several companies had offered me jobs, and I had accepted the one at IBM in Rochester. Life was looking good.
The camping group wanted to make the feeling repeatable. How about a trip to the Olympics in Montreal in just three years, 1976? We could make this happen.
Making it happen was a major piece of work. I ended up with the job of buying tickets and finding housing for a group of ten people. If you remember my post from a couple of months ago, telephone calls weren’t cheap, the Internet didn’t exist. I did just about every piece of preparation through the mail, paper mail.
Every Olympics has dozens, no, hundreds of events. Today television makes it seem easy, they’ve chosen which events to cover, and they adjust to broadcast the event our favorite country is part of. I had to choose tickets not really knowing what people wanted to see, not knowing which tickets were available, and not knowing who would be competing. I spent hours poring over schedules, trying to avoid the events that sold out before being offered to the public, and selecting others that nobody wanted to go to.
In the end, I spent hundreds or thousands of dollars trying to get it right, and the selections worked out pretty good. Each day we’d sort through the tickets, figuring out who wanted to go to weight lifting, deciding who wanted to see rowing, who got to see volleyball, and who was stuck with yet another soccer match. We did not have to buy many tickets from scalpers.
Housing for ten people was a bit of a challenge. After several exchanges with the Olympic housing authority and the potential landlord, I picked out a “house” in Montreal for us. The proprietor was a francophone, and I wasn’t ready to use my high school French with them. The “house” was two small apartments in downtown Montreal, which ended up being a good choice, with a nice park nearby and within walking distance of the Metro.
To me, the Montreal Metro was a highlight of the trip. My only train experience had been with the Northern Pacific Railroad from Jamestown to Minneapolis. The subway struggled to meet the demands of Olympic crowds, but did quite well. The most vivid memory of the train happened when we waited in an empty station for the train to arrive. Standing near the tunnel where the train would come through, our first clue something was happening was the rush of air from the tunnel. No sound, no light, just the whoosh of air, followed by the bright blue train, gliding quietly on rubber tires.
The second vivid memory of the Metro resembled the first in no way. A major event had just discharged thousands of people into a station late in the evening. Along with everyone else, we crowded on the platform. Maybe it’s my claustrophobia, but there wasn’t much air down there. The first train came through, barely slowing down. We could see through the windows why the driver didn’t stop, that train was more crowded than our platform. Another train arrived, empty. All the doors opened and in an instant every seat, every strap, and every square inch of standee room filled. Standing towards the back, we didn’t even feel the crowd shift. Hundreds of people had gotten on the train, and the platform was still packed. Several trains arrived and we got out of the station and back to the apartment in good time.
We enjoyed dozens of exciting events, from rowing to basketball to soccer, especially enjoying events in the huge, unfinished Olympic stadium. The track and field event was exciting because everything seemed to happen at once, with competitions occurring all over the floor, in every corner, all of them calling for our attention.
Platform diving surprised us as one of the best events of the Olympics. There wasn’t a big crowd, but Judy and I sat next to another couple. They spoke Spanish. And English. We discovered that their son was competing in the event. Suddenly the event was important, and we had experts who could tell us what the judges looked for and what each decision meant.
The drive home was memorable, too. There were signs along the highway reminding us of the “Big Nickel” in Sudbury, Ontario. The signs reminded me of those advertising Wall Drug in South Dakota. As we approached Sudbury the landscape grew more desolate. Trees gave way to shrubs, which turned into stunted bushes, which became sickly grass, eventually there was nothing but gray dirt. Then we got to the nickel. The nickel was more memorable than Wall Drug in one way. Disappointing. There was nothing there but a thirty foot high nickel. Not even a souvenir stand. The town and highway were desolate, ruined.
In another mile or so we discovered what was going on. There’s a nickel mine in Sudbury. These were the days before effective laws on pollution control. Tailings, smoke and fumes from the mine devastated the land for miles east of town. That scene, as much as anything, convinced me of how necessary strict pollution control laws are. We did take a quick tour of the abandoned part of the mine. Even for this claustrophobic dude, it was uneventful and dull.
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