Canada is a Winter Games wonderland
It was after midnight, a week ago, the U.S. had earlier defeated Canada in a preliminary-round Olympic hockey game, the emptying streets wet, the mood soggy.
I was returning from our nightly visit to the giant four-pronged Olympic flame with my 15-year-old daughter, Mary Clare, who was wearing an American flag like a cape, and a smile like a necklace.
It was one of the first times she wore something that didn’t represent her high school or favorite sports team. It was one of the first moments she may have realized the pride in being an American.
And here came the Canadian.
He appeared to be in his late 20s. He was wearing a scruffy beard, a pale bandanna, and wild stare. He jumped in front of Mary Clare on a darkened patch of sidewalk and started shouting.
“Eh, eh, eh!” he said.
She froze. Her brave and resourceful father also, um, froze.
At which point the man stuck out his hand.
“High-five, eh?” he said. “Great game, America. You won fair and square. We’ll see you in the finals.”
Before disappearing into the shadows, the man looked back at me with what appeared to be a wink.
“I know what you were thinking, but that’s not how we do it here,” he said. “We’re Canadian.”
I thought of this incident later when, spying on Mary Clare’s Facebook page as all brave and resourceful fathers should do, I came across a line about her Olympic experience that stunned me in its simple honesty.
“I love Canada,” she wrote.
Come to think of it, so do I. Forget the medal counts and podium ceremonies, there was only one true winner here, the beauty and breadth of its land equaled only by the daily kindness of its people.
Canada, you were gold. For two weeks, you lived your anthem, your hearts glowing like that moon that hung nightly over the Burrard Inlet, a light on the front porch of a house that felt like a home.
There was tragedy here in the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, embarrassment in the opening ceremony torch malfunction, carelessness in the ice resurfacing machines that broke during long-track speedskating, crassness of a gold-medal- winning Canadian women’s hockey team celebrating on the ice with booze and cigars.
None of it was the fault of the Canadian people, who turned the Winter Olympics into the Warmer Olympics, filling the city with friendliness, filling the stands with good cheer even while booing the USA hockey team, sharing not only their streets but themselves.
There were women giving me directions as if they were my mother reading me a recipe, hand on my back, walking me toward my destination -- “OK, now, you go down here a little ways, pass that cute little syrup store, make a left at that fountain.”
There were guys who, standing in one of the endless lines here that the Canadians accepted with such good humor, would ask me if I’m having fun, and did I need anything, and oh, here, let me explain curling, everyone a cousin, every gathering a family reunion.
Then there was the Canadian who literally gave me the shirt off her back. She was a manager at a local bakery that properly boasted of Vancouver’s best cheesecake. After a couple of memorable visits there, I wondered whether they sold T-shirts featuring the name of the shop.
The manager went into the back and came out with red shirt that looked similar to the one she had been wearing. Take it, she said. No charge. Thanks for coming.
Finally, there was the ski lift.
I may be the first person in Winter Olympics history to admit this, but I’m terrified of ski lifts. A horrible experience on a long and rickety Alaskan lift 25 years ago made me swear to avoid them forever. Imagine, then, my nerves upon learning that in order to cover the Alpine ski events here, I had to take a ski lift up to the media center.
Sitting next to unsuspecting colleague Chris Dufresne, I held my breath going up and survived. The problem was coming down. It was late, and there was nobody working the lift. Just riding that sucker was hard enough without figuring out how to climb aboard and pull down the bar and actually get off.
That is when she appeared, a local volunteer returning to her family. As she prepared to board the lift, I shouted for her to wait for me. She did.
I told her my problem. She understood.
She helped me board with my giant briefcase, asked about my family as we rode down through the tops of the trees, then carefully instructed me how to climb off at the bottom without falling on my face, drawing a few deserving snickers from some nearby teenagers.
“Hey, he doesn’t do this much, OK?” she said, scolding.
Canada, you were gold.