“Memories….like the corner of my mind…misty water colored MEMORIES…of the way we were….”
Today…for SOME reason…I rolled my memories back to the summer of ’96. Not only was that the summer I graduated high school but it was also the year of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta Georgia. Oh Boy!
In early spring of 1996, Jenks High School (my alma mater) was “chosen” or "invited" to be one of 3 high schools in the entire U.S. to have students working at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta Georgia. The students had to be upper classmen, over the age of 16, be able to live in a dormitory all summer, and work the different kiosks around the Olympic village. These students were on a first come first serve basis and had to put only about $50 bucks money down.
UH…SIGN ME UP!!!!!!!!!!!
So, I (along with about 200 of my high school classmates) quickly signed up to go. I mean...who WOULDN’T want to do this gig? I was 18, needed a summer job, never lived away from home, would receive 2 tickets to the games, and was ready for an experience of a life time. My parents were also VERY excited for me. They were quick to jump on board with the idea.
Fast forward to June or July (its all kind of foggy). We had already been through “orientation” on what to expect…we had packed our bags…and the 7 charter busses were sitting at the school parking lot ready to go. LOOK OUT WORLD…HERE I COME!!! We were told that the only money we would need during our (approximately) 2 month stint was for gifts, and that ALL room, board, and transportation was paid for. So…I only took $200 in traveler’s checks. Plus, we would be getting a pay check for our job. The $200.00 is what our school sponsor suggested…and most of the parents agreed.
After a long grueling drive from Jenks to Atlanta…we FINALLY arrived to the “check in”. This was a local Atlanta “convention center” of sorts. Now…remember, I said that we were 1 of 3 high schools chosen. Well, as soon as we got there, we IMMEDIATELY realized that there were more than 3 schools. There were more like 50 schools with about 100-200 in representation from each. Come on…do the math…THAT’S RIGHT!!!!!
This was a problem…this was a BIG problem. Our school sponsors were on the phone with the state of Atlanta…with our home town…with the police…with our momma’s…with EVERYONE.
…long story longer…we’d been scammed. Literally...SCAMMED!!!
After being in this convention center type place for about 5 or 6 hours (sweating like crazy) we were given the instruction of our teachers to get on the busses and get away from the convention center and start looking for hotels. Supposedly, the City of Atlanta was “footing the bill”.
Well, we decided to FIRST go to the local high school / dorm that was "supposed" to be our home for the whole summer. OH MY GOSH!!! That place was a mad house. There were almost as many people there as there were at the convention center. Hundreds if not thousands of kids holding their bedding and luggage looking extremely tired and hungry. (have I mentioned just how stinkin’ hot Atlanta is in the summer???) Our sponsors said “no way” to that…and we headed out of town to try and find hotel rooms for 200 kids from Oklahoma.
We stumbled upon a little sleepy town in Georgia with a Howard Johnson hotel. I guess no one had checked in for the games yet…so, we got to stay there for about a week. (again…the City of Atlanta was supposedly footing the bill). Next door was a gas station and Waffle house. Let’s just say that I didn’t eat Waffle House again for about 5 years because of this experience.
After about a week, the HOJO had to kick us out because the olympic tourists were beginning to arive. (and by the way...the city of Atlanta did NOT foot the bill...HOJO did!!!!!) Anyway, the town high school decided to let us sleep and live in their gymnasium. At this point, President Clinton had officially declared this a state of emergency and the Red Cross had been deployed. We were all over the national news and on the cover of USA Today.
We were officially refugees…
The Red Cross was a VISION OF GLORY!!!!!!!!!! After the HOJO and Waffle House, we hadn’t had anything to eat for almost 30 hours when the Red Cross finally arrived. I don’t think I’ve had so many bologna sandwiches, cheetos, and hi-C punches in MY WHOLE LIFE! But…boy…they were good!!!!!!!! (Funny side note: After we gorged our selves with that food…a local restaurant showed up about 30 minutes later with barbeque brisket and all the fixin’s. Dang!...I sure wasn’t hungry anymore)
Well…reality was earily starting to set in. We weren’t gonna see the games…the gymnasium was gettting more and more full every minute...and we were stuck. CBS nightly news showed up at our gymnasium to film the “grim situation” and did a live broadcast there. They wheeled in a TV so that we could AT LEAST watch the opening ceremonies….it was so sad.
And then…THE CAVILRY…
Continental Airlines caught wind of the situation and opened up a special flight to fly the abandoned kid’s home for $100.00. My parents told me to RUN and hop the shuttle bus to the airport!!!!!!!...and get that flight as soon as possible. Other kids were going to ride home on Atlanta City School Busses. (Thanks parents!!! I really appreciate the flight!!)
While sitting in the airport, waiting for the Continental people to open their desks…we saw LOTS of kids wearing funky outfits and lots of face paint. These were the kids from all over Georgia that were asked to perform in the “opening ceremonies” just hours before. Jealousy…uh…YAH!
A man passed by me and my small group of friends and said “oh…are you the kids that are stranded?”… “yes, we are”… “here you go, hopefully that will buy you all a meal.” That sweet man gave us $100.00 for the 10 of us sitting there…hungry…and scared. If I could see that man today…I WOULD GIVE HIM A BIG HUG. He was Christ to us in a time when we REALLY needed it.
Long story…short! It was fun, it was awful, it was exciting, it was scary, it was joyful, and it was sad.