My Olympic Story

Disclaimer: The following story has nothing to do with parenting. It has to do with a particular day that happened oh so long ago, in the days before parenting (BP?). I’m sharing it to try to get into the Olympic spirit–difficult to do when our TV has zero reception so we can’t see NBC. 

It’s a little bit about the Olympics, but more importantly, it’s about traffic in Rome. 

We were living in Rome in 2004, the year the Summer Olympics were held in Athens. At the time, I was finishing up school and working on the side as a translator. A friend of mine, a fellow ex-pat (and avid runner), was working for the Rome Marathon organization. It turned out that people from the Rome Marathon were going to help the International Olympic Committee to welcome the Olympic flame as it touched down in Rome and started winding its way to Athens. 

And they needed an Italian/English translator to facilitate communications between the international crew bringing the flame to Rome and the Roman crew that was on the ground receiving the flame. 

For some reason, my friend had a previous engagement and couldn’t take part as the translator/facilitator–so I was the lucky recipient of the coveted temporary post. 

And that is how I found myself waiting on a street corner at 6 a.m. one morning, wearing semi-formal work clothes (I believe I was wearing a skirt), waiting for a car to pick me up and whisk me off to the airport to wait for the arrival of the Olympic flame. The other three were wearing sporty Rome Marathon shirts and comfortable shoes. I felt a bit out of place.

I got in with three Marathon staff and started speeding towards Rome’s smaller airport, Ciampino (used for European and internal Italian flights). Traffic going out of town wasn’t horrible, but all four of us were groaning at the prospect of taking the flame back to the city center later that morning. Traffic going into town was, as usual, horrid. 

We got to the tarmac and a few minutes later the plane landed. The mayor gave a rousing speech, and the Olympic flame made its way down to a waiting vehicle. Final destination: Stadio Olimpico, where the first runner was going to carry it through the city. 

My job was pretty easy…told some people to place boxes here and there, and was free to observe the rest of the time. 

Then it was time to accompany the flame downtown. My coworkers and I were grumbling about having to face the traffic when we saw the first motorcycle cops. Who were followed by a litany of other motorcycle cops. It was a motorcade for the Olympic flame.

And it turned out we were the first car in the motorcade. 

Stunned silence descended on the four of us. Which quickly led to hysterical giggling. 

Anyone who has lived in (or even visited) Rome, has seen the daily motorcades that accompany visiting dignitaries and Italian government officials. It soon becomes the most irritating thing to watch yet another motorcade of 30 cars zoom by, stopping traffic and generally being a pain in the arse. 

Those annoyances vanish when you are the one in the motorcade. 

We started out of the airport and met with very little traffic. The cops were waving us along, and there we were in our little FIAT, wide eyed and in thrall of the powerful feeling of police accompaniment. 

When we hit the actual city limits, the feeling was even more pronounced. A trip that normally would have taken an hour was coming to an end in about 20 minutes. It was like Moses parting the seas…the cops had their drill down, stopping, waving us through, angering the general public, and rushing  back to the front to repeat. 

The giggling in the car never stopped, and we had a profound sense of sadness once we actually reached our destination. Who knew if any of us would ever actually experience that again? 

Our work done for the day, we parted and went our separate ways. I had to take public transport to get back home (gasp!). It was quite a shock to the system after having traveled in style. 

Moral of the story? Even if a job is going to net you 40 euros, take it. Because you may end up in a motorcade with the Olympic flame, which will definitely be one of those stories I’ll tell my grand kids. 

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