Ten years ago I was dressed in a tight black vest, tuxedo shirt, stained black slacks and a bowtie that restricted the flow of blood to my head. I looked like a 300-pound penguin shoveled into 185-pounds worth of clothes. Think Chris Farley playing 007. It was 10 o’clock in the morning and I had been up for three hours fighting local and national security trying to drive to the Wyndham Hotel located inside of the Olympic Village. I had a series of lanyards around my neck proving I belonged at the hotel and I indeed wasn’t a threat except to people’s livers.
The Winter Games of Salt Lake City had started with a cross valley firework show that scared the crap out of any dog within the 801 and 435 area code. For years leading up to the opening ceremony there was a measurable buzz in the city wondering what was going to happen and whether or not the previous seven years of preparation was going to be a success or not. I didn’t have any doubt. In looking at downtown SLC with photos of athletes draped over the length of skyscrapers I figured at the very least it was going to be an interesting.
I had secured a cherry position as a bartender at the Wyndham Hotel a year before the torch being lit. It was at a place called Shula’s Steakhouse which is appropriate considering both Salt Lake’s rich NFL tradition and the average Utahn’s love of Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphins. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful bar with wood paneled walls, expensive cigars and no draft beer. Until the day I die I will always remember that a bottle of Heineken at the Wyndham cost $6.46. Outrageous.
In the days leading up to the opening ceremony, the GM of the hotel brought me into her office for a chat about cultural exchange. In a remarkably condescending tone, she gave me a quick lesson about global economics, cultural diversity and the role of the Wyndham during the Winter Games. It might have been one of the worst meetings I have ever attended until the end when she told me that after for the games, the DABC doesn’t exist. I got the message and spent the next two and half weeks pouring drinks like I was at Mardi Gras.
I worked 17 out of the 18 days during the games. I started pouring at 10 in the morning and stopped when we ran out of booze. Every night the club was packed to the gills and money was never an issue with the guests. Remember those $6.46 Heinekens? I opened a pallet every night. The money was good but the experiences were better.
Within in minutes of getting though an hour-long checkpoint to get inside of the hotel, I was greeted by an irate Kristi Yamaguchi demanding that I fetch her a fat-free vanilla soy latte. Telling her that we didn’t have any fat-free vanilla soy, she punched me in the solar plexus. If she wasn’t as cute as a button and smaller than my neice, I might have made a formal complaint. In a nutshell, that is pretty much how the Winter Olympics went for me.
I met Steve Mariucci and the president of Croatia. I poured Bob Costas a beer and watched Mario Lemieux sign autographs for an hour while eating dinner. I heard the Dave Mathews play across the street at the Olympic Village while pouring champagne for VIPs on top of the roof of the hotel and heard the loudest scream of my life when NSYNC took the stage.
I remember when the games ended that I suffered from a post-partum depression. I missed the excitement of the games, meeting all of the guests coming through the door and the energy that Salt Lake City produced. Fortunately, I was able to taper-off my Olympic high with the Para-Olympics which was just as magical. I honestly have three dozen different stories about the game but I wanted to note that I really appreciated my experience during the games.
With the ten year anniversary happening yesterday, I am reminded that for 17-days everybody was an Olympian in Utah. I remember the pride everybody had in trying to make the games a complete success and that there was a real civic pride in living in Salt Lake. I doubt I would have remained in Utah for a decade if I didn’t have an incredible Olympic experience. And I doubt I am alone in that sentiment.
I thought the motto of the games, Light The Fire Within, was a bit cheesy at first but in reflection I don’t know if anything could encapsulate the experience I had during the games better. I honestly felt connected with the city after the games and hope we make a push to host the games again in 2022.
Hopefully, I won’t be falling out of a waiter suit when it comes back.