My son, Luke, turned 18 years-old on September 23, the day we left for Sydney, Australia. Little did he and I know what we would find Down-Under during the last week of the 2000 Olympic Summer Games.
We had an incredibly packed itinerary, including several Olympic sporting events, three receptions, press conferences, interviews, business-development meetings, and "look-of-the-city" briefings. The Olympic Games and closing ceremony were massive productions, flawlessly carried off. And everything else, from the hassle-free transportation systems to the inconspicuous security, were far better than anyone had any right to expect.
All of that was exceptional. But the element that will be most memorable for us was the friendliness, wit, and charm of the people of Sydney. Never once did we hear an unkind word, even under circumstances where people were tired and fully entitled to betray a little frustration or irritation. Instead, we consistently encountered people who were happy to help out, humorous, and obviously enjoying the 17-day party hosted by Sydney during the Summer Games.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from the Sydney Games is the crucial role played by volunteers. In 2002, a smile, a good sense of humor, and a constantly welcoming attitude by our volunteers will be absolutely essential if our Olympic visitors are to remember Salt Lake City as a hospitable, fun, enjoyable experience. The same is true of all our residents and employees whose paths may be crossed by our visitors. I'll never forget the several Sydney police officers who greeted Luke and me with broad, genuine smiles, exclaiming, "G'day, mates!" It was all pleasantly, and a bit surprisingly, disarming.
I heard from several Australians that there had been a fair dose of cynicism concerning the Olympics prior to the beginning of the Summer Games. Predictions of transportation disasters abounded in the Australian media. And no one was really quite sure how well 40,000 volunteers could be mobilized and organized. But everyone - and I mean everyone - got on board for the grand party Sydney threw for its visitors, and for those around the world who were watching the festivities on television (about one-half the world's population). The people of Sydney were proud. They were excited. And they were determined that Sydney succeed at being the best possible host to visitors from throughout the world.
One evening, I returned to our hotel room to get some work done by e-mail from my lap top computer. Luke, of course, was ready to hit the city. Having experienced a safe city, comprised of what appeared to be the friendliest people on the planet, I told him he was free to go exploring. (He is, after all, 18 now - the legal age for everything in Australia.) The next morning, he told me of how he stuck his head in a pub just to check things out, and he was greeted by a table-full of young people. "C'mon, mate. Care to join us?" Within minutes, the place was singing "Happy Birthday" to him and, at the end, yelling out three Hip-hip-horrays. A few nights later, he stopped by a club where a band was playing rock 'n roll. One of the band members asked if anyone in the audience played guitar. Luke, who is generally a bit shy in these situations, raised his hand and, before one could say "Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan," he was playing "All Along the Watchtower" to the glee of the friendly room-full of partiers.
In light of all that friendliness and good will, we should all ask ourselves: Are we as friendly and light-hearted with our guests as we might be? After our visitors encounter us, will they be writing home about these amazing folks in Salt Lake City, who have made such a wonderful difference in a trip that will be remembered forever? And are we having as much fun as we could, living our lives with joy, warmth, and good humor?
In preparation for the 2002 Winter Games, we can start practicing now. When we see someone looking at a map on a street corner, we can volunteer assistance. Our police officers can offer smiles and a good-natured "Hello." ("G'day, mate" might be a bit too much.) And we might even back off when we see that car in front of us signaling to move over into our lane. (Really, it won't compromise one's manhood one bit to give someone a break in 4th South traffic!)
The Games will be here sooner than we think. And it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for hundreds of thousands of people - our visitors and we residents. Let's make it a wonderful party, with plenty of slack being given to our guests to have a good time as they are accustomed - even with a little alcohol if they please. And, while we're at it, let us recognize that every day - not just those 17 days during the Olympic Games - we have immense opportunities to enjoy life more and to be friendlier, of better humor, and more hospitable to all with whom we come in contact. They will enjoy their encounters with us more - and we will each find far more joy and satisfaction from our lives lived more fully, more openly, and with greater tolerance, understanding, and enjoyment of others. Let's enjoy the party - and make sure that the rest of the world enjoys it with us!