The other day, a momentous mark was passed. In just about a year, another Olympic Games will be kicked off. Speeches were held and banners unfurled, and the Prime Minister was interviewed by a newspaper. I don't know much about the progress of the Games. Most of the action happens at the other end of town and I'm pretty certain that July next year I won't notice any commotion or disruption, or even a departure from the ordinary.
This was quite different ten years ago when Olympics came to my hometown for the first time. Back then I lived in Salt Lake City, studying at the University of Utah. Light rail was courageously introduced to Salt Lake Valley, Salt Lake 2002 schlock filled the stores, and the Olympic Village rose on campus. My daily life wasn't disturbed but excitement grew nevertheless, mostly concerning the question of how the Mormon establishment would handle the sudden massive influx of boisterous infidels.
To everyone's surprise and delight, the Mormons lay quiet when the Games came around. Where before you couldn't get a half a pint of beer without filling in a four-page membership application to a private club, people were now spilling Bud on Main Street as they sauntered from the Gallivan Center to the Medals Plaza, a full plastic cup in each hand. I didn't recognize my city of four years, but the liveliness wasn't to last. When the flame had been put out, the fire within died and the Zion Curtain fell back upon the state.
In London, such ups and downs won't happen. The Olympics might be big - and politicians and the media promote them as much as possible - but they're just another thing happening in this most happening of cities. Overall, the week before the Olympics will be just like a week of the Olympics: Transport is crazy, tourists wait on the wrong side of the escalators and clog Oxford Street, fifty concerts and exhibitions take place every day, be it Olympic or not.
Things look a bit different to those living in and around Stratford, site of the Olympic Stadium and Village and of a park of new venues. When I, rather optimistically, wanted to check out the area late in 2009, I found my progress blocked by vast construction nearing completion. Now, the Olympic Park and all venues have been finished, and, rather incongruously, a gigantic mall is ready to be handed over to the eager consumers of what by many measures is a deprived area of London. Take the DLR to Stratford, and the contrast to five years ago is just as big as the contrast between Mormon and Olympic Utah.
I personally, however, don't need the Olympics in London and don't care about them. I haven't applied for tickets (You can't simply buy them.) or signed up as volunteer. One year from now, I'll go through my city much as I do now, mouth agape and eyes in wonder, in awe of the diversity, pumped by the energy, intoxicated with culture and deliriously happy to live here.