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Sunny day, sunny dispositions

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 14, 2010 05:24 PM

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VANCOUVER -- So now we know. The sun does shine here after all.

We arrived in the city Thursday; the blue skies finally arrived today. And judging by the thousands upon thousands of people who roamed downtown this afternoon, visitors were eager to get a look at the spectacular waterfront basked in sunlight rather than the familiar slate-gray sky.

Navigation was not easy, and any attempts to go against the flow quickly proved futile. The congested foot-traffic was reminiscent of a Manhattan sidewalk -- with pedestrians' snarls swapped for smiles, of course. But the scene was magnificent to behold. Here are three vignettes from a few hours spent caught up in the crowd, and perhaps the moment as well . . .

* * *

"Hello and welcome to the Vancouver and the main media center. If you are here to see the Olympic flame, please follow the sidewalks to the end of Thurlow Plaza. Thank you, and have a nice Valentine's Day."

It is Robbie Young's job to make that announcement through a bullhorn every single minute, give or take a few seconds, through his entire three-hour shift at perhaps the busiest spot in the city.

While the message is occasionally altered -- Young occasionally gives "Happy Chinese New Year!" a shift -- the 23-year-old Vancouver native's delivery is unfailingly enthusiastic.

One might think it is an Olympian feat in itself, to say same thing 180 times in 180 minutes without the tedium setting in at, oh, the three-minute mark.

One would think wrong.

"Are you kidding? It's been the best two days of my life," said Young, pausing between announcements for a quick Q&A. "I got to see [Wayne] Gretzky light the torch Friday, then I got to go to Yaletown [a trendy section of the city] and watch the best fireworks display I've ever seen in my life the next night. I asked for this job so I could be in the middle of the action, and it's been incredible so far."

Young makes his announcement from an oversized lifeguard's chair on the corner of the blocked-off intersection at Cordova Street and Canada Place Way. But to him, his perch might as well be a throne.

"I'm the most popular guy in town," he says before readying the bullhorn once again. "I've been telling everyone that."

* * *

The swapping and bartering of souvenir collectors' pins is such a traditional part of the Olympic experience that it might as well be considered a medal event itself.

But for Harvey, one of a half-dozen pin hobbyists who displayed their wares on small wooden tables in front of Canada Place on the waterfront this afternoon, it's not about the cash so much as it is the camaraderie of being part of something grand.

"I'm retired. This is my way of seeing the world," says Harvey. "I try to recoup what I spend to get here. Just want to break even."

Harvey chooses not to reveal his last name -- "I'm just Harvey," he says -- but says he is from Calgary and has swapped pins at every Olympics since the 1988 Winter Games in his home city, a statement his varied and eclectic collection appears to confirm. If you desire a Breast Cancer Awareness pin of Marge Simpson dancing with her dear Homer, Harvey's your guy.

He looks like what the singer Jimmy Buffett might if he'd chosen memorabilia over music and margaritas. He wears an "I Love Snow" pin on the lapel of a jacket that's a souvenir from the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and his red Gilligan-style bucket hat is dotted with 30 or so others, including an eye-catching and appropriately golden pin from the 1980 Lake Placid games.

His location is prime, and business, like everything else downtown today, is bustling. In the few moments we chat, he's approached by potential customers and trade partners from Italy, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands, the latter searching for a Dutch speedskating pin.

It's one Harvey does not have, but no matter.

"I buy, sell, trade, and talk," he says. "Hopefully not too much talk."

* * *

Much to the chagrin of the locals, not to mention NBC, the Opening Ceremonies here will probably be remembered for the Three-Legged Cauldron Malfuction. But it should be recalled the lighting of a second flame downtown -- one that is supposed to stand as the symbol of the Vancouver Games -- went off without a hitch, despite the look of sheer terror on torchbearer Wayne Gretzky's face as rode across town in the back of a pickup truck in the rain.

The waterfront flame is a spectacular and humbling sight even in the daytime, and the pedestrian traffic perpetually looped to and then from a view of the torch. But it's also off-limits, with a chain-link fence and other barriers preventing visitors from coming within hundreds of feet of the cauldron.

Dustin Guyda, who was among approximately 25 police officers and security personnel overseeing the scene, said most seemed content to take pictures and admire the flame from afar, though he said he did hear occasional gripes.

"A few people have let us know they don't like it, and sometimes not very politely," he said. "But most understand the reasons. They don't want the torch to get damaged -- not that it would be vandalized, but more by wear and tear. And it is somewhat dangerous because of the fire."

Guyda said he had heard that there may be some alterations to barrier so that visitors could get closer and take better pictures, maybe in the next few days. But today at least, the list of those allowed close is short and exclusive.

"I'm pretty sure they'd let Gretzky back in," he said. "But he's about it."


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