All those pre-Olympic worries about whether the laid-back West Coasters would show their pride and welcome the world have been put to rest—with a vengeance.
Nothing I have witnessed in three prior Olympics compares to the crowds thronging the streets of downtown. From very first thing in the morning, until well after closing time, sidewalks and public places are jam-packed.
During daylight hours the vibe has been fun, with lots of tourists and families with small children. At Robson Square, home of the BC Pavilion, people are lining up for eight hours for a 30-second zip line run, high above the crowds. Near the International Broadcast Centre, the Olympic flame was already a huge draw, despite the less-than-ideal viewing conditions. And once word spreads that VANOC quietly replaced the chain-link fence with plexiglass in the wee hours of this morning, look out.
The bars are packed all day long and filled with friendly ribbing as Canadians diss foreign visitors about the day’s performances and vice-versa. National colours, painted faces and flags as capes are the order of the day. (My favourite get-up so far was a guy in a kilt with a t-shirt reading “Opening Ceremonies Hydraulics Team.”)
But as the evening progresses things are getting a little ugly. Last night, the vast pedestrian mall on Granville Street seemed more like a riot waiting to happen than a street party. The crowd—young and homegrown (at least it sure smelled that way)—was closer to legless than tipsy. And there was a distinct edge to the pro-Canada celebrations.
Vancouver Police were out in force, gamely trying to dissuade people from drinking in public. But in contrast to their colleagues on the day-shift, the cops seemed tense, moving about in large, unsmiling groups, obviously girded for trouble.
Now comes word that the V.P.D has asked the Integrated Security Unit, the 10,000-strong, RCMP-led force in charge of venue security, for a hand in managing the crowds. It’s a wise decision.