They are the worst Olympic mascots since Atlanta, 1996. That one looked like it'd been hit with an ax, an Olympic ring over each eye, three more on its tail. They called it Whatizit, soon shortened to Izzy, which didn't help sales. A $10 bill under each arm wouldn't have helped sales.
I visited the 2012 Olympic site while on holiday with my family. That's what they call vacations in the United Kingdom, holidays. And once we recaptured our luggage from US Air, a holiday is what it was, the ladies strutting off to L'Orangery near Kensington Palace for afternoon tea, while I found my way via the underground to Bromley-on-Bow.
The tour guide was named Helen. Bristly haircut and attitude to match. She did not mention that the area had been voted "worst place to live in London" a few years ago. She stressed the goals: green games, inspire youth, regeneration, using the facilities when the Games end to make the area a more attractive place.
Lovely. The 2012 Olympics, green and ugly with a kind heart. Just like Shrek.
I had to ask her to define "refrigerator mountain" for fear of losing something in the translation. Turns out people would dump discarded fridges and freezers and other appliances in the river Lea, which borders the Olympic site. Who knows how many chemicals leached out into the river and whether the surviving fish glow in the dark.
It was 45 minutes before we got a glimpse of the Olympic Stadium. At first glance it looked inspired by Tinker Toy, all the white pipes as struts, simplistic, bare bones, blah. The Beijing stadium was futuristic, with flourishes that drew the nickname "Bird's Nest."
This one might be nicknamed "Pipe Dreams." And the seats, all black and silver. Al Davis, the withered owner of the Oakland Raiders, might like it. And some of the gangs who have adopted those ominous colors, might like it. The rest of us will sneer at the lack of imagination.
It turns out color has already become an issue. Helen talked about the idea of incorporating the official colors into the track, lanes of pink and green. And then the TV folks squelched that scheme, compromising on a blue track with a pink border. Paint it with polka dots and Usain Bolt still will be a green-and-gold blur in the 100-meter finals.
Which brings us to the biggest challenge so far, the ticket lottery. More than a million people applied for tickets to the 100-meter finals, and 21,000 got lucky. Gymnastics, swimming and water polo are already sold out. You could hear the protests as far away as Scotland.
Protests are a way of life here. On our first weekend in London, there was chaotic gridlock around Hyde Park. The queen was overseeing Trooping the Color, scanning the cavalry. Some 5,000 "slutwalkers" were marching to raise awareness of threats to womanhood. And then a thousand bikers assembled in the park, disrobed and biked naked down Piccadilly.
With the world watching games played on a toxic-waste dump, you can count on parades and charades and chanting marchers. The taxi drivers are already planning their protest because the entire area will be off-limits to cars and cabs.
So plan on taking the Dockland Light Rail Line and pay attention to the recording that blares, "Mind the gap!" The newer, sleeker trains don't always conform to the station platforms, so pay attention getting on and off. And, oh yes, our dollar is worth 61 cents in Britain.
Mind the gap, indeed. *
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org