Hospitality pours down more thickly than the snow in Vancouver

I am here in search of Sonja Henie, my first Olympics ever. They should’ve known better, obviously. In fact, when they first mentioned my going, I just assumed it was some sort of hoax. The Olympics, really? What do I know about the Winter Games? To me, they are Jim McKay in my father’s sweater and 500 dudes named Sven.

Besides, I don’t travel particularly well. Me flagging a media bus in a new city is like Charlemagne chasing the Saxons. But OK, whatever. I like the snow. And I adore that Sonja Henie.

So here I am. Let the mind games begin.

First, let me just note that if the Brady Bunch had their own country, it would be Canada.

This earnest nation seems so well-meaning, so good for the mind and spirit, it may well be made of antioxidants. They’re pouring on the hospitality here and it’s making me a little uncomfortable. No, for the fourth time, I don’t want more iced tea. Thanks, though. No, seriously, no more tea. OK, thanks.

After almost two days in this sugar-glazed country, here’s what I’ve managed to discern so far:

* The Canadians love hockey the way the Germans love opera.

* There’s more snow in Big Bear right now than at Cypress Mountain, site of this year’s half-pipe.

* I think I’m being followed.

Yep, they have someone from the tourism bureau shadowing me, like I’m Hunter Thompson. She’s a sweet kid by the name of Emily and right now she’s no doubt reevaluating her choice of careers. To her, the military is looking mighty good right now.

Trust me, kid, I’m no Hunter Thompson. He carried a gun and had better drugs. All I have is a half keg of NyQuil and a notepad. How much harm -- or good -- can I do? (See bus, above.)

Yet, for all my limitations, I’m on the trail of some very important stories. Like, what’s with those Olympic mascots, the ones who look like the offspring of SpongeBob SquarePants?

One of them, a sea bear thingy named Miga, says in an interview that she likes to warm up with a good stretch and “a few practice butt wiggles. It’s my signature move.”

Obviously, if I can nail that story, instant Pulitzer.

As if that’s not enough, there is something here in Canada called a Loonie, which sounds vaguely illicit, when in fact it’s their word for a one-dollar coin. I think.

I’m also trying to find out what you can buy up here for less than 20 bucks (early indications, nothing).

I’m all over that one too.

Frankly, I’ve been all over Vancouver the last day and a half. It’s hard to believe that at one time, this was just another old mill town. Arriving here -- over water, past mountains -- is like landing on a piece of jewelry.

In my early reporting, I’ve learned that Vancouver was founded in 1867 by a saloon keeper known as Gassy Jack. He’s gone now; presumably, he exploded.

In his place is a gleaming, multi-textured place with heavy Pac Rim influences, mixed with some very British DNA. Folks come down from the Yukon for the weekend and many never leave. That’s the allure of Vancouver. Marry Santa Monica with Chinatown with Balboa Island, then triple it.

Add a lot of coffee too. I’ve seen towns with an abundance of Starbucks before, but this is ridiculous. There are coffee shops within coffee shops. Like little Russian pocket dolls.

Good thing too, because as much as you’ve heard about the melting snow, it is bone chilling here in Vancouver. Wednesday, the temperature barely broke 50. Seriously, how do people live here?

Quite well, apparently. It seems every view is a seascape. The cherry blossoms are blooming and the daffodils are awake a month early. There are palm trees -- palm trees? -- on the edge of town. How a place with palm trees nailed a Winter Games is beyond belief.

It would make no sense, except that Vancouver is ringed by some of the finest mountains on Earth, and for two full weeks it will also be ringed by Olympics rings. Two days till opening, everything seems nearly perfect.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Schwarzenegger is about to run the torch. Yeah, that Schwarzenegger. No word yet on whether he’ll be tested afterward.

Man, this is going to be fun.