Picture a beautiful sunny afternoon in late June of 1996. It's the day of the summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and as I leave work in Chevy Chase I am restless and in need of "something" to do. Find some local Druids maybe, or motor out to Skyline Drive and howl at the moon, or ...something. Anything.
Uncertain, I pull out of the garage and flip on WTOP. The station is reporting that the Olympic Torch Relay is about thirty minutes from Key Bridge, on its way to Atlanta via Rosslyn. Whoa. Hey, here I am about 20 minutes from Key Bridge! I've never seen a Torch Relay up close and personal. It's an easy decision to hit the accelerator and fly to Arlington.
The next part is a bit blurry. I evidently find a legal parking space, and it is entirely possible that I actually changed clothes in the car, but I can report that I find myself awaiting the arrival of the Torch in t-shirt, shorts, and the shiny new loves of my life - my three-wheel, solid-black-plastic-boot RollerbladeTM inline skates. The wheels are teal and the laces are pink, and they are perfect.
It is easy enough to see where the Relay was going to take place as the crowds start to throng the route. There is a hush and then a bit of a roar as the entourage makes its way across the bridge - a police car or three, a big blob of people and cameras that presumably contain a Torch and its Bearer, and then a minibus that would have been the pride of any airport parking authority.
And that's it. The dirty little secret of the Olympic Torch Relay is that there's not much to it. It's also kind of slow, as each Bearer gets only so many feet or yards or tenths-of-miles before the Torch is passed.
I skate slowly back and forth behind the onlookers as the procession passed, unsatisfied. Wheels under one's feet portend action and movement, not stasis. So it is perfectly logical when I slip into the roadway, right? I certainly think so, and so do a handful of other restless, enterprising souls who just happened to find themselves in Arlington on the Solstice with skates on. That's when my day goes plaid.
Because it turns out that the Relay organizers don't really mind being trailed by a ragtag pack of skate rats, at least as long as we stay a respectful distance back. And it also turns out that the thousands of folks lining the streets of Rosslyn are hoping for a parade. So we give them one.
We become the carnival at the back of the procession. Fist pumping chants of U-S-A! U-S-A! Wide looping circles to reach the people on both sides of the street. High fives with all the kids. Hops, flips, spins, knee slides - we empty our skating toolkits. If only I knew how to juggle; if only I'd had candy to toss to the crowds as they clap and cheer. The fencing academy comes out in full uniform and salutes us with their epees. It. Is. Awesome. The parade goes on for what seems like hours, making a big loop of Arlington, and conveniently (sadly!) bringing me right back to my car, and bringing my time with the Torch to an end. I might gladly have trailed the Torch all the way to Atlanta, but everyone's time with it is necessarily short. Ah, well.
So now it is time for Alex Ovechkin to take up the Flame, to hold aloft all the hopes and dreams of his nation and perhaps even the world. And then he will pass that obligation to another. Congrats, Ovi, and please just pay it no never mind if there happen to be some goofballs on skates behind you.