SOMEWHERE IN TORINO - Intrepid reporters do the darndest things when plunked down into unfamiliar environs, and so this little story is bound to be either equaled or trumped a hundred times over by the time the Torino Games come to an end.
In spite of the fact we at NBC have been blessed with a commendable transportation system that ferries producers, camera crews and typists like myself to the various far-flung venues, hotels and work spaces in this Olympic city; some of us, like myself, crave the independence of a set of wheels. So after two weeks of groveling and a little chocolate, NBC News' Director of Finance Helen Siegelin caved yesterday and handed me the keys to an Alfa Romeo.
(Don't get too excited, it's quite utilitarian).
Problem is, the thing is NOT equipped with any satellite tracking device to help guide me, and I am too dumb to get a map. I've come in on the bus enough times to know the route like the back of my hand, so it was with unabashed confidence I put it in first and rolled out of the workspace around 8:30 last night.
I was lost by the time I reached the first traffic light. And believe me, after dark, those little piazza's all start to look pretty similar. Two hours of circling later; and a guy who claims to feel as comfortable in Beirut as he does in Buffalo was beginning to lose it. Especially, when he stumbled onto the FIAT car plant, which is actually farther away from the hotel than the workspace he'd just left.
The thing is...there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY I was gonna call Helen and tell her I was lost.
Ego in hand, I decided to ask a local cop. Mistake. They are great guys and gals I am sure. But, by the time he'd pulled the map out and we labored over which way was up I was seriously considering sleeping in the Alfa.
That was until a little angel appeared in the form of an older local Olympic volunteer dressed in his smart red Torino Olympics jacket.
"You want to go to hotel, Mr.?" he asked.
Turns out the gentleman had overheard the name of my digs on the outskirts of town, and low and behold it was close to where he parked his car each day to take the tram into town. (He was from a small village I gathered, and saved parking money by commuting this way to do his volunteer work.)
He navigated. I shifted gears... and 45 minutes later he shook my hand and headed off into the night.
I headed into my hotel muttering, "War is hell" under my breath.
Over the next two weeks, whatever you hear about this "Gritty Northern Italian Industrial Town," (trademark registered by me), remember it's populated with some pretty decent folks.
And yes, I told Helen this morning. She thinks I'm nuts.