You can't swing a dead cat in Vancouver these days without hitting someone wearing a powder blue jacket. That's the official uniform for the 25,000 volunteers who seem to be everywhere in this city, performing a variety of tasks from the mundane to the critical.
The overwhelming majority are incredibly nice and completly competent. Then there are those who stood their posts at or around the BC Place, site of last night's Opening Ceremony.
Despite the presence of 60,000 excited fans and the throng of media who came there to share Vancouver's story with the world, this was Ground Zero for incompetency and indifference. Either that or quite a few of them forgot to read the page in the volunteer handbook that talks about being helpful, courteous and kind.
It seems that when VANOC was issuing these fancy outfits, complete with ski coats, fleece vests, and those cute red mittens that are all the rage around town, several of the volunteer kits were missing one very important element -- a clue.
I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the Japanese method of Olympic volunteerism. You assign one person to one door. It is their responsibility to know where the door is located, where it leads, and who can pass through it. If you need to know anything else, you'll need to talk to their supervisor. Who is, you guessed it, on the other side of the door.
With thousands of media from around the world here to cover Canada's coming out party, you would think it would be a good idea to post a sign or two saying, oh, I don't know, MEDIA ENTRANCE TO THE LEFT or MEDIA THIS WAY. Heck, most would've settled for a sign that said MEDIA NOT WANTED. At least then you would know where you stood.
Instead, we were treated like soccer bags kicked from one curb to another. This blue jacket says go to the end of the next street and take a left. Get there and another blue jack looks at you like you're crazy and tells you to turn around and take a right. At one point I was directed down a secure access road and told to talk to a person standing by a gate. When I got there she looked back down the street at the first person and told me to go ask them. It got to the point where they were pointing at each other.
Even when you found a ray of intelligence in the dark storm clouds of ineptitude, it disappeared before you knew it. In spite of my insistence that I wanted to get inside BC Place, I was taken to the Hockey Canada Place and told to go to Gate 10. Of course the was locked and the eight, count 'em eight people with blue jackets, standing out front didn't know what was up.
Luckily, a young lady took pity on me and escorted me to the front entrance of the BC Place and pointed me to the media door. I must be in the right place, I thought, when I saw a guy holding a sign that said MEDIA. I almost hugged him. Of course that love affair was short-lived.
"You need a sticker," he said. But I had a press pass. You need a sticker. But I also have a media ticket. You need a sticker. So where do I get a sticker? I don't know.
Finally an usher took pity on me, grabbed my elbow and escorted me through the media entrance, which was located five feet from where another volunteer disavowed any knowledge of media entrances, media in general, newspapers, television sets, blogs, tweets or smoke signals to relay the news of the day.
I finally get inside, watch the ceremony, a good time was had by all and it was time to leave. So it's back to the "Help Desk," an oxymoron if ever there was one, to find out where to catch a shuttle back to the media centre. They had the "when" covered. The "where" turned out to be a bit of a sticking point.
So back outside, into a steady rain, to find a media shuttle. You had a better chance of finding an elephant in a box of Cracker Jack than finding a sign that would lead you in the right direction let alone a media bus stop. There were plenty of signs for the corporate bigwigs from Visa along with someone giving out directions for NBC employees, friends and family. A media bus? Not on your life.
One blue jacket sends me over a bridge, down a walk way and into an empty parking lot. Another sends me back up over the bridge around the BC Place. When you're talking navigating your way around the biggest blow up building in North America, there is no easy way to get from Point A to Point B. Especially not when you're swimming against the tide of 60,000 Canadian revelers.
Even though I was lost and at the end of my rope as far as patience is concerned, there was something comforting about finding a kindred spirit who is every bit as frustrated and angry as I was. It's a photographer from some East Coast paper, with a camera bag and two telephoto lenses and monopods, who was jerked around his own cast of characters.
Hoping for strength in numbers, we set off together in search of the bus stop. We eventually found it, one street over, with three empty buses sitting there just begging for riders. To Whistler, of course.
At this point we abandon any hope of ever finding a bus. My traveling companion set off in search of a taxi, while I head in the direction of my hotel, and away from anybody wearing a blue jacket.