I arrived back in Portland, Ore., last week after spending two and half weeks jostling through monumental crowds while covering the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Now I'm lost. Where have all the revelers gone? It's as if the Olympics don't exist. There are no crowds spontaneously chanting "Go Canada go!" or folks wearing their national flag draped off their shoulders. Let's face it. The ultimate world party is back up north in Vancouver and I'm missing its final days.
The games may bring the best athletes together but it also brings the best partiers, too. Because the thousands of people unlucky enough not to be at the actual hockey game or curling event end up turning Vancouver's streets and bars into party central. National pride ran high through these crowds. People cheered for their countries inside sushi restaurants and coffee shops. Anywhere I turned I'd be caught up in a wave of excitement and celebration. Of course, some areas were better for this than others.
One of the biggest bashes happened outside the unaccredited media press center where I worked. Robson Square in downtown Vancouver has a newly restored ice rink and a zip line running diagonally across the plaza. There were concerts at night as people skated on the rink. The Canadian Tenors packed the crowd in one evening. An ice performance telling the story of the Olympic mascots Miga (part killer whale, part sea bear), Quatchi (a young sasquatch), and Sumi (an animal spirit) brought in families. And that zip line? People would wait on average six hours for a 30 second thrill ride.
The real spectacle at Robson Square was the nightly light display complete with fireworks and flames exploding in sync with the music. One night, the crowds were so dense I spotted a security barrier providing safe passage out of the crowd. I asked the police officer nearby if I could climb over to catch a train. He held out his hand and helped me over the railing.
Free venues like LiveCity Downtown or LiveCity Yaletown were practically 24-hour parties. This was the place to watch everything from alpine skiing to hockey on giant screen TV's. LiveCity Downtown had beer. The other one had Coca-Cola. Go ahead and guess which was busier.
I stumbled across Molson Canada Hockey House one weekend. This was the VIP scene of Olympic party life. I used my media pass to get in on the day the U.S. hockey team beat Canada. Inside, I found a sea of Canadians wearing red shirts and getting rowdy. I imagine it got pretty quiet in there when the U.S. defeated Canada.
The day before that game, some 150,000 revelers were downtown. That forced the Vancouver Police Department to ask the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch to close liquor stores at 7 p.m. that night to cut down on drunkenness. It worked but left a lot of unhappy people.
That crack down on selling alcohol probably didn't play well at Irish House. This pavilion style tent had a line of partiers that ran the length of a city block in the morning. It's no wonder. I could hear Irish tunes blocks away and people cheering inside even on a weekday. Only the Dutch partied harder at the Holland Heineken House.
On Sunday, Vancouver passed the Olympic flag to Sochi, Russia, which will host the Winter Games in 2014. After dropping by Sochi House on Vancouver's waterfront, I can only imagine the Olympic party that will go down four years from now. Whatever, happens, I know vodka will be definitely be involved.