At the closing ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics they raised the South Korean flag and invited everyone to reunite in Seoul. To whet your appetite for Seoul they brought out a troupe of South Korean acrobats and dancers dressed in native costumes. In Seoul they raised the Spanish flag and honored Barcelona by introducing a battalion of guitarists and flamenco dancers.
And in Barcelona, to herald the dawning of the Atlanta Games, they can offer the world this slice of Atlanta culture -- the first sound foreign tourists are likely to hear as they arrive at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, the world's largest Skinner Box: a disembodied voice, calmly, but in the firm tone of a parent, instructing you: "Terminal A. You are now arriving at Terminal A. Please stay clear of the doors. Please proceed to the moving sidewalk. Please keep to the right so others may pass. . . . "
Atlanta. Much more than a city.
Those of you who've flown into Atlanta know the T-shirt: "Go To Hell -- But Be Sure And Connect In Atlanta."
In Paris they ask, "How do I get to the Louvre?" In London they ask, "Which way to Buckingham Palace?" In Atlanta they beg, "Please get me to Terminal B."
Every Olympic host city gets one new medal sport. Atlanta could have, "Find That Gate."
It doesn't matter how much time you have to connect in the Atlanta airport, you can't do it. You can't get to your gate on time. Atlanta's airport is God's way of saying, "Take Amtrak." If I had a dollar for everyone who had to sleep in a heap on the Atlanta airport floor because he couldn't make his connection, I'd bid for the Games myself. Atlanta is probably the only airport in the world that sells pajamas.
The International Olympic Committee apparently felt the Athens airport was dangerous, and it is. Atlanta's airport has a different sort of terrorism. You don't get shot there, you simply grow pale and listless as you wait for your connection. Atlanta doesn't have homeless people; they're all still waiting for Eastern.
Believe me, this isn't sour grapes because I was a Belgrade supporter -- yeah sure. I'll bet those British soccer hooligans helped Manchester's chances too. It's just that Atlanta never struck me as the kind of exotic site the Olympics usually selects. As The Baltimore Sun's Mike Littwin pointed out, Athens is known as the Cradle of Western Civilization and Atlanta calls itself "Dogwood City."
Athens has the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Most of Atlanta's old buildings were burned down in the Civil War, although this week on "Designing Women" they were giving tours of the Sugarbaker home. Athens is Plato and Socrates, Atlanta is New Coke and Classic; order a Pepsi during the Olympics, you'll be deported.
Ou allons nous pour diner ce soir?
Stuckey's, mais oui!
Now that Atlanta has the Olympics, does it mean Jerry Glanville will leave tickets for Rhett Butler?
"I've got two to synchronized swimming."
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
And does it mean that TBS will show the games? Because if that's true then we've only got six years to get Larry King to lose those suspenders and buy a belt like a grown-up.
Everyone's talking about how Andrew Young did the deal, but Ted Turner made two critical promises: One) He promised he'd never ever hold the Goodwill Games again. Two) He promised that the surgically-augmented Jane Fonda will light the Olympic flame. (Eat your heart out, Marla Maples.)
Atlanta is known throughout the world thanks to CNN. In Gabon, for example, Body By Jake is worshipped as a God, and last year South Guam High School named Frank Sesno and Bobbi Battista as the world leaders they most admired (Valerie Voss came in third, followed by George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Lassie -- they also get Nickelodeon). Atlanta looks great on CNN. It may come as a surprise to some of the foreign tourists that the combination of temperature and humidity during the Olympics will steam them like a Sabrett's hot dog.
All kidding aside, Atlanta is a fine choice. You don't think being in the prime TV time zone of the country that bankrolls the whole Olympic shebang with its TV rights bid had any influence, do you? It has wonderful mass transit, lots of good hotel rooms and restaurants and the sports facilities will be top drawer. Jimmy Carter's already hard at work building the chairs for the Georgia Dome. (They ought to hold some of the outdoorsy, survivalist events, like canoeing, shooting and squealing like a pig, on north Georgia's Chattooga River, where they filmed "Deliverance.")
Tourists should know though that Atlanta isn't exactly "Titletown USA." Loserville is more like it. Its professional teams are laughingstocks. None of Atlanta's professional teams, not the Braves, Falcons or Hawks, have ever played for their league's championship. Through a combined 50 seasons of major league baseball and NFL football, the Braves and Falcons have ONLY ONE playoff victory -- a Falcons wild card fluke in 1978. You're familiar with the bumper sticker: Go Falcons! Take the Braves With You. The Hawks routinely choke in the NBA playoffs. There used to be a hockey team there, the Flames, that never did much. Soon after moving to Calgary they won the Stanley Cup. Calgary, hmmm.
Atlanta's Dave Kindred, whose work used to grace these pages, reports that the Falcons are currently facing seven paternity suits, including two against former team president Rankin Smith Jr., son of the team owner; the Rankin Smiths are referred to inside the NFL as "the Jed Clampetts." Mindful of the team's 11-36 record over the last three seasons, a Falcons wife was quoted as saying of the team, "We may be bad, but at least we're fertile."