It begins like all addictions -- simple recreation, something to take you away from the trappings of your monotonous Greek Olympic life. Bus here, event there. Sniveling medalists everywhere. Feta for breakfast, feta for lunch. Feta, feta, feta.
I'm going to try it, you decide. Just once, to get away from it all.
And one morning, with the shutters drawn in your 21/2-star hotel room, bam! You're nothing but a flat-out junkie, bingeing, throwing your career and life away. Leaving Las Vegas, by the Aegean Sea. You end up in the middle of a self-help program, next to the Performance-Enhancers' Anonymous meeting.
"My name is Mike. And I am a pin trader."
It's the volunteers' fault. They are beguiling, inviting, asking for your little gold-plated metallic pins at every entrance, every day. Men clasping submachine guns next to security entrances ask you for your pins, the butt of their guns pressing against you as they inspect your hardware. It is only after they inspect your pins that they check your bags for C-4.
The other addicts trade their little countries and little flags with you, make you feel like a little Pokemon dealer on a preschool playground.
They regale you with stories about Olympic spirit, and how pin-trading is a wonderful tradition, practiced by pinheads since the Calgary Games.
So you start affixing them to the nylon band that holds your credential, and you become like the others.
You need the fix. The fix of swindling someone out of a better pin, of pulling off a bigger heist than gymnastics judges.
"Dude, you want to trade?" the man from the Los Angeles Times asks.
And you reply, "Of course. I'll give you this pedestrian NYTimes.com pin for your stunning view-of-the-Acropolis pin worn by members of the Tribune Company cult."
"Cool," says the L.A. Times guy, all of whose friends are presumably named "Dude."
The guy who gave you the NYTimes.com pin asks what happened to it. You tell him you lost it. He doesn't believe you and asks if you need help.
You keep trading, no longer caring who you steal from. You're all about the high.
What a tragic scene you saw last week.
There was a woman at the cycling road race, a nice, cherubic woman with soft features, maybe 65. She spoke in a halting accent, noticing a man's bevy of colors and shapes pinned to his credential.
"I will give you the national flag of Moldova," she said, unhinging the ornate, burgundy, gold and royal blue pin and ceremonially placing it on the man's lapel.
In return, the man gave back a cheesy gold-plated USA Today pin -- a thievery on par with Mitch Richmond-for-Chris Webber.
It was sad; the woman from Moldova had no idea what Al Neuharth had done to American journalism.
The man pinned it on her, so excited he accidentally punctured her during the encounter. He had his fix.
I wish I could say I did not know that pathetic man. But it was me.
God, that Moldova pin is sweet.
-- Mike Wise
Scooters and motorcycles are ubiquitous on the crowded streets of Greece, whether sliding in and out of traffic or parked on the sidewalks. Friday night, one drove straight through the center of the restaurant patio where we were eating dinner.
So today during my walk to the bus stop, when I heard that loud signature roar, I looked up -- in time to see a Greek policeman pop a wheelie right in front of the U.S. Embassy.
-- Tracee Hamilton