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I thought of how to start this out, like "this is an olympic story, and a true story" or maybe in the word of Baron de Coubertin, "it's not the winning, it's participating...it's not the success, it's the struggle." And you know this has been the biggest struggle of my life!! Before I left, I made hundreds of phone calls, trying to work, trying to get a credential, trying to do something so I could get to Japan!! The stress was terrible, up all hours of the day and night, calling Japan, calling New York, calling all over the place, even trying to work for our affiliates, calling strangers in Alaska and then even in Guam, since they have a different Olympic committee!! I was talking to the USOC, the IOC, Nagano Olympic Committee, anyone who would talk to me, it was crazy, there was no one I wouldn't call to beg for work.
Because I knew if I didn't have a credential I would have a big problem getting into things, most importantly where I was supposed to stay in the Media Village. I was very worried, but I didn't know for sure what was happening until my friend got there, and could tell me what was going on. Well, our worst fears came true, he got there and there were 4 security checks between the bus and the Media Village, and I couldn't get in at all!! No visitor passes, no day passes, no exceptions, they said. The two things I most need are a credential and a CBS jacket, because with that maybe you can fake your way in a few places, because I had learned that from others who had worked Olympics in the past.
So I don't have either thing, and now I am also homeless, and you saw on TV, there are NO rooms, people are having roommates and there aren't enough rooms for the officials and people who need to be there, committees were buying apartment buildings so their coaches and people would have places to stay!! So now I have a new problem, where am I going to stay-so I make hundreds more phone calls, every hotel, asking them for referrals, all the CBS places, and of course with the time change there's only certain times of day I can do it, and the days are passing very quickly and at this point I have to leave in a week!! People would say to me, are you going anyway, why don't you just stay home!! Imagine that, well there was NO way after all this I would stay home, of course I was going!! I couldn't imagine anyone would think I was defeated...it was just a problem I had to solve.
So I got many, many rejections, all over Japan, and no rooms, finally I found a room up at Shiga Kogen, where they had the slalom and snowboarding, when you think of the Olympic map and where the venues are, imagine Nagano in the middle and Shiga is up and far right. It's about 1 hr. away and in bad weather, but it is a room and that's the main thing!
I got on the plane and I admit I was pretty nervous-I don't like going on trips where nothing is settled or organized, but people also told me that I would figure it out when I got there, and that is true, because when you are actually there you can meet people face to face and try to work things out. I got to the airport in Los Angeles, running late because the highway was closed, and the sheriff's said one thing, the radio something else, so I had to turn around and take the LONG way around, so finally I checked in for my flight to Tokyo at 10:50 am, well they had too many confirmations so I got bumped off that flight and put on the one at 1:10 pm. Well, OK, I am not happy about it but of course the airlines do that sometimes so I had no choice but to wait. Then I get on the 1:10 flight, everything is fine, I am sitting next to this loud New Yorker lady which was pretty funny, she reminded me of the Nanny's mom on TV, so you can picture it! Then, 2 hours into the flight, they tell us "there's no reason to be alarmed, but we've lost control of an engine and we have to go back to LA...there's no fire, no emergency, we just don't want to fly to Japan this way so we're dumping 12,000 gallons of fuel over the ocean and returning to LA." Well, of course I am pretty upset and feel this trip is jinxed for sure, the lady next to me is just freaking out, she has this tour group she has to meet, what is going to happen to her, on and on, no experience flying at all and she is all upset. I tell her, don't be upset, they'll get you on another flight, put you in a hotel, something, it'll be OK, while I am pretty upset myself, I am supposed to get to Japan, meet someone and stay the night in Tokyo, I also have plans, I need to get the train to Nagano, this is also a problem for me, too!!
We land and of course everyone is rushing off the plane and getting in line for a United agent to help them, but this is the wrong thing to do, I immediately go to a phone and call the 800 phone number for United (yes of course I have it memorized) and someone answers immediately, what do I do, when is the next flight, what can I do to get out of here right away? So they say there are no more flights to Japan on any airline so I know there's a flight to Honolulu, I saw it while I was waiting for our flight, can I get on that, then get to Tokyo the next morning? Well, they check it out, and yes there is a seat!! They get my on the other flights, and since they are giving everyone a hotel in LA they can just give me one in Honolulu, right, and I am closer to Japan!! So I run like crazy, they can't find my bag to check it but then they do, and they weren't very friendly about it, and so I get the bag checked through to Honolulu and they hold the plane, I am the last one on but I make it!! I didn't know it is 6 hours to Hawaii, it takes SO long!! So we get there, of course I am the only one carrying a big coat, everyone else is in shorts!! Unfortunately I only had 7 hours is paradise to sleep then back to the airport and on another plane to Japan!! It was a full flight but not too bad, extremely long though, 9 more hours, but we arrived about 11:55 in the morning Tokyo time so I decided to go directly to Nagano, it is amazing how fast and efficient the train service is there!! I cleared Customs about 12:30, walked in the terminal to the Narita Express train into Tokyo, walked through the Tokyo terminal (which is VERY difficult with luggage, nearly impossible, up and down 5 escalators, no elevator, sometimes only stairs) and onto the bullet train (Shinkansen) and by 4 pm I was in Nagano!! It is expensive but faster than if you tried to fly, which you can't anyway because there is no airport.
I arrive and the train station is FULL of people, so crowded and for all the politeness of the Japanese culture, they would run you over in a train station!! I am so tired but the weather isn't too bad, quite cold for me but really not too bad, so then I have to figure out how to get to Shiga Kogen but no one seems to know anything and they don't speak English even in the Information center!! So someone finally tells me you have to get a bus at 6 pm, so I have to wait 2 hours!! This is ridiculous, after 3 hours from Narita Airport to Nagano and 2 hours to wait for a bus!! I didn't know about the media buses at the time and they didn't tell me, but of course I had just gotten there and didn't know anything yet. There is noplace to sit in the train station either.
So I got on the bus and finally go to the hotel, it is very snowy in Shiga and I am walking where the guy pointed and ended up in the employee cafeteria, where fortunately there is an Australian girl who walked me to the right place, then the bus driver said my bags were OK and he would bring them ( or something like that) and he drove off with my bags, so we find them and I get checked in!! I am starving, it is 8 pm (it's 1 hr. drive straight up in the snow) so they only had soup and it was about $5 for a bowl of soup, but I was glad to have it, then I went to bed!! So I just slept and figured it would all be better in the morning.
I woke up and it is pouring the snow and I just look at it in despair, but hey, I am in Japan now, so when life gives you lemons you have to make lemonade!! So I call a guy I had talked to, through one of my DAR ladies, her neighbor is the President of the US Figure Skating Federation, what incredible luck, and so he told me to come into town and meet him at the hotel and he'd try to get me a ticket to something or do something, he was so nice and he doesn't even know me!! So, I made my way on the bus into town, this time the media bus so I could go free, and then got to the train station (all buses go either to the train station or IBC). So I got a taxi to this guy's hotel, wow, what a place!! All the figure skating officials etc. are here, even the Japanese royal family was there for a couple days!! So I am just looking at all the people, amazed, and then he gave me a ticket, for figure skating, the Pairs final tonight!! I was just thrilled, and this was a big deal because of course figure skating tickets are impossible to come by. So I am feeling a little more encouraged, and I had a wonderful time seeing the pairs, I even got on TV, right after Meno and Sand they show a shot of the audience and there I was, on the 3rd row!! I sat with the Canadian officials and Elvis Stojko was right nearby, it was very exciting, and things are working out a little bit.
I spent a whole day at IBC, which was great, of course this is where all the international broadcasters have their facilities and it is huge, and CBS has a big area, and they have everything there-a restaurant, cafeteria, bank, post office, travel office, all right there so you never have to leave!! I had a great time, they had a HDTV demonstration and 3-D television which looked great, and of course this was my opportunity to talk to all my CBS friends from all over the country and try to get work so I could move into the Media Village. I saw lots of people, it was really fun, and even met the President of CBS Sports, which I had wanted to do!! His father is Jim McKay, legendary ABC sportscaster who has worked on every Olympics and done everything, and I have his book and even a photo of the 2 of us when he signed the book, 25 years ago, and Sean, his son, wrote a chapter in the book on how he got everywhere with his ABC Sports jacket, that it was what made him legitimate when his dad was working all those Olympics!! So we had a nice talk, I told him he was my role model especially on the jacket, and he said to give him my business card and he'd send me his dad's new book, I also told him if he needed anyone to work I was available (imagine me, asking the President of CBS Sports for work, but I am not afraid to do anything at this point!!) I saw my TV City friends, my KCBS friends, lots of New York people, the guy from Alaska who I had begged for work but let me down, I sat in the control room for the prime time show and went into the late night set and took pictures, all the places I see on TV, it was really good.
Then, that night I went to a hockey game, the guys are helping me so much and got me free tickets to events, so I went to speed skating and also to a slalom rehearsal, I was lucky to go to M-Wave (I had a badf experience there, they wouldn't let me get back on the bus without a credential and after crying and begging about 15 Japanese guys who didn't even speak English they let me in with one of their guys who put me on the bus personally), Aqua Wing, it was fun to see the different venues, also going back and forth to Shiga I saw the Kanbayashi park where they did snowboarding and halfpipe (and met af girl from Calgary who had been working for NAOC and spoke perfect Japanese, shocking to see it from a red-haired Canadian), I wasn't that interested in going to outdoor venues and freezing to death, thef Japanese are very patient and can sit outside for hours and not mind, this is not my idea of fun at all in the snow!!
I remind myself this is vacation, but I still don't have anyplace to stay after 4 days and I want to move into town-I think, even though it is expensive, that I can stay at Shiga for awhile, though this isn't getting me any closer to being with my honey, and then, the hotel at Shiga tells me a group is coming in and so there is no room for me after tomorrow!! So I go to the room and cry again, this is about the 4th time I have thought of just going home, but then I realize I have to get reorganized and something will happen, though every day it is some kind of struggle to get the bus, the ticket, the room, food, something...
The Japanese culture is very interesting, and very strict, and it must be very difficult for them to get ahead, be set apart, because there's no room to "think outside the box", as we call it, to call people, try for stuff, because they learn a very different way. Like, when you need to check in the hotel, and it's 11 am, they say "the room is ready at 2", when you ask if they could make it any sooner, they say "ok, 1:30". When you go to a restaurant, you ask for the lunch menu, f well you can't have it because we don't give them out till 11, what time is it, it's 10:52!! There is no flexibility, no discussion, no trying to help, like at McDonalds, they had these Olympic plates and f you had to eat hamburgers for which you got a card to scratch off and get points, 10 points, one plate. Here, you can usually buy them, if you ask, but there, "not for sale, you must have points." So a girl from the hotel saved all her McDonalds points and I ate as many Teriyaki burgers as I could stand and did get the plates, but there's a strict way, the only way, and that is it.
As for the weather, it is one good day, one bad day...the temperature is not nearly as cold as Norway, but it is in the 30s or 40s which is OK, but damp and chilly (0-5C). When you had a nice day, you always did something outdoors because the next day would be nasty...and different areas would have different weather, you saw it on TV, you never knew for sure...
I ended up going to JTB, Japan Travel Bureau, who CBS told me knows how to get rooms when no one can. Every time I would be in Nagano city, I would go into every hotel asking for a room, I started to feel like a hooker I was in so many hotel lobbies ha ha!! But with no success. Finally, I met with the manager at JTB, and remember I only have a few more hours and then I have nowhere to live, and so happy, the man there finds me a room at a nice hotel in town, about 10 mins. walk from the train station. And not expensive, I mean the Japanese didn't raise their rates for the Olympics, while anywhere else they'd make a $75 room a $300 room!! So I was so incredibly happy, and could move into town, where the weather is better, close to everything, and then finally I could be in town which was what I had wanted all along.
I went to Zenkoji Temple, the famous temple built starting in the 700s, the symbol of Nagano, which was very interesting, with many smaller temple buildings and beautiful gold carvings and a secret passageway which is completely dark, and you feel your way along the wall through it (a little scary), but if you can feel a key on the side of the wall you will have true happiness. I didn't feel the key, but I was happy to be staying in town and that I had succeeded in going to the Olympics so I didn't need to find the key!! I was really happy to be there and every day that it was good weather, I went to a different place. They also have an outdoor mall area, called the Gondo, with many cute stores and things, and the Chuo Dori, the main street which you saw on TV, and where the CBS anchor position was, where they had the shots of the prime time studio etc.. I walked all over Nagano, over to the Olympic stadium to take pictures of the flame (it was a bit out of town so I took the local train). It can be hard to find buildings, though, because remember, everything is written in characters on the buildings etc, so if someone says, go to the Ken-Kai building, it doesn't say that, it just has characters so it's like you're blind, like you can't read, because you can't!! Very hard since there are no addresses or street names either.
One day I went to Matsumoto, an hour away by train, to see the castle and the Hokusai museum, which had a beautiful exhibit of 36 prints depicting different aspects of life around Mt. Fuji. They were done at the time of George Washington or the French Revolution, late 1700s, early 1800s, it was very interesting. Matusmoto is a very cute city, with many interesting stores and things to see and do, and I was even interviewed for Japanese TV on what I liked about the castle as a tourist!! I don't know if it was ever on the news. I also went for a day to Hakuba, and I tried to find good weather, but as you saw on TV it was bad every day and that is why they cancelled so many things (downhill, ski jumping etc.) so it was a big problem. When I got there, even though it was sunny in Nagano it was snowing up there and just horrible, the snow was cutting my face it was so hard, so I just walked a little bit there and came back. I think it would be a cute town if the weather were better!! I met many interesting people, all sorts of athletes and officials and talked to a security guy who couldn't even get his UPS people into the media village and they had a desk there to send packages!! He was very nice, and gave me a special UPS Valentine's pin since I moved into town on Valentine's Day!!
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