Athens, Day 6: The newbie sat in the wrong chair!

It’s pretty crazy when I realize that I’ve been here for a week. It’s even crazier when I realize that I have another week to go. The world of Special Olympics centers upon the “hurry up and wait” lifestyle. There are days that fly by, and days that drag on and on. And within each of those days, you may alternate between busy and dead in the water phases too.

I’m learning a lot, which was the main reason I came to work this World Games. And, to take things a little deeper, I think I’m finding some clarity in a lot of aspects of my life (both work and home). It helps seeing other lifestyles, not just from our Greek counterparts, but in some of the coaches and athletes from other countries. I remember experiencing this type of clarity a few years ago, when I was in London. And the only way that I can sum it up (for purposes of the blog) is by attributing it to becoming more aware of the global picture. In other words, we all face similar issues. We all have sets of unique issues. But, no one is alone. We’re all very much a part of one another, and I experience a great sense of peace when I realize that.

Assigned to Games HQ, I suspected it would be a very slow day holed up inside our windowless room. But, in my attempt to make the best of it, I spent the time really delving into GMS v6 to gain a better understanding of the deeper goings on. Basically, I messed around in the program all day, trying various things and learning as I went. I did have a few troubleshooting opportunities, but nothing major to report.

I stole Reuben’s chair. Reuben is the leader of this group (works for SOI in charge of GMS, amongst other things). When we first arrived in Games HQ, he set his bags on the table and went out. I chose a seat to settle into. His seat. And, I chose this seat for the same reasons I choose my seat in our (Southern Ca) own Games HQ: 1) in a position where I can see people come in through the door, but not in a position where they would come up to me first, and 2) not right in front of the air conditioning vent, but close enough to still reap the rewards. Taking Reuben’s seat (assigned seating, who knew?), and I paid for it with the pick on the newbie teasing for the rest of the day.

The unplanned reward (punishment?) for stealing his seat is that tomorrow, I’m being sent out of Games HQ, back out into the venues.

Competition began today, and from what I’ve heard, some venues started with very little to no issues while others had some challenges. It’s neat to hear about the different experiences and stories, relayed by the other committee members, when we gather in the hotel lobby/bar at the end of the day. I love being a part of a huge event like this, where there are so many things happening on a very big scale. There’s always something to take in and appreciate.

There are some protests, happening at Parliament, causing some traffic issues. There’s also a threatened strike planned for Tues and Wed, which would should down all public transportation in the city. This not only affects us getting to venues, but athletes, coaches, and event volunteers as well. It’s pretty likely that the shutdown will happen, as there are many posters warning the public about it. There’s no official word of what we (Special Olympics) are going to do if/when it happens. Another adventure awaits.

I’m really enjoying myself, but I do miss Michelle, my family and friends. I’ve also been craving avocado like crazy (so used to eating one every day, and I can’t find them in any of the restaurants over here). Still very much loving the french fries served inside of sandwiches over here. Add an avocado to a gyros pita, with french fries in it, and you have the perfect lunch.

And with that, I’m turning in for the night to dream about that perfect sandwich.

Days 4 & 5: Whirlwind and getting out more

I didn’t post last night because, well, I was too tired. By the time I got back, up to my room, it was well into the early hours of the morning, and I had an early wake up call time.

Day 4 (Friday): Stuck in Games HQ all day. Nothing too exciting to report (or, that I want to really report on a public web page). The day was filled with a lot of waiting in between helping to troubleshoot minor and not so minor issues as they came up. Now, though we are working with a new version of the GMS software, we all understand that there will be issues that come with it. And, we’re very fortunate to have the software’s lead programmer on site to fix bugs as they apear. But, the issues aren’t necessarily due to the software. Rather, the issues are due to a variety of factors, such as poor user training, egos, miscommunication (or sometimes a full lack of) and all of the other fun stuff that comes with working with other humans. Let us leave it that, for now.

Day 5 (Saturday): I was able to go out to a venue! Today is the last day of preparation before the competition begins (as I type this, Opening Ceremonies are running late into the night). I joined the other Patrick (from Ireland) out to Olympic Stadium to check on our setups at the complex, which include Athletics (track and field), Aquatics, Basketball, and Powerlifting. This outing included a 1.5 hr adventure on the Metro (closed stations and train rerouting), seeing some beautiful venues, really getting to know Pat more (he’s hilarious; had me laughing all day), some more troubleshooting (on the fly, at a venue, which felt good to do. Hell, it’s why our committee is here), and another 1.5 hr Metro adventure back to our hotel.

I opted to skip Opening Ceremonies because, 1) I’m tired, and the ceremonies are long (began at 7 PM and is maybe only 60% through as of midnight. The Parade of Athletes, 170 countries, takes a long time to introduce to the crowds), 2) all of the seats on the stadium, where the ceremonies are being held, are marble, which would make for a very uncomfortable evening. In fact, this whole city is marble. It’s everywhere! And, 3) Today was filled with a lot of walking in very hot sun/weather. I’m tired.

Tomorrow, the competitions begin (yay!). I’m assigned back in Games HQ where I’m hoping I can provide support as needed. This is a really talented, good, compassionate team of people. This GMS Committee is very intelligent, very fun to be around, uses common sense 99.999978% of the time, and is here for all of the right reasons (for the athletes). It’s a privilege to be a part of it, and I am willing to do whatever is needed to support the others, and this competition, to ensure a good experience for the athletes and coaches.

With that, I’m calling it a night. I’m tired, and tomorrow will be very, very busy.

Athens, Day 3: The first day of the rest of our time in Greece

I’m not entirely sure how long, or interesting, this post is going to be. Why? Well, 1) it’s been a long day and it’s really late right now, and 2) it was fairly uneventful.

We spent eleven hours in our Games Headquarters room (pictures of our room are above), troubleshooting GMS v6.0 bugs and familiarizing ourselves with the new features. The reporting functions have been rebuilt from the ground up, and are 8,000% better than reporting in the previous version of the software. There’s a lot to learn, and our biggest challenges/questions throughout the Games will (we suspect) focus on reporting.

There are other challenges that we will face too. Working with not necessarily the most pleasant people. We’re talking the very high strung, dramatic, and outright rude types. This will test all of us and our diplomatic skills. Now, this is not saying that all of the people we will be working with are like this. In fact, I’m sure it will be the opposite. But, there are a select few who will be sure to make the loudest noises.

I had my first bad meal here, lunch. The picture that shows the bread with a paper thin piece of cheese on it? That was our “sandwich”, provided to us by the Athens 2011 GOC. Not ten minutes after receiving that, we had placed our carry out lunch order with a nearby restaurant.

For the third consecutive evening, we dined at Jima’s Ginger. It’s such a good place to eat, and they are very familiar with us already (almost knowing our orders). I’ve been trying to switch things up but, this evening,went back to the chicken skewers, which are AMAZING.

We spent the evening getting to know each other more. All thirteen of us are finally here. A breakdown of where we’re all from: Bahamas, Trinidad, New Zealand, Ireland, Alabama, Alaska, California (me), Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Virginia. Pretty awesome, right?

Athens, Day 2: All about the Acropolis

First, I am sorry that I don’t have my “big camera” (dSLR) with me, but I am extremely happy that I’m not carrying all that equipment around. It’s hot here, and with each step, anything you carry gains another pound. So, traveling light (which I love to do in the first place) is key in this city. (By the way, you may already have figured this out, all of my photos are straight from the camera with no editing. Most of the time I have the camera on full auto mode. I’m enjoying point and shoot tourism, rather than trying to play photographer while I’m here. Though, sometimes I do feel that is just an excuse to be lazy with the camera.)

Today was a free day, where eight of us decided to explore the Acropolis. The other four had to attend an all-day meeting, and we’re still waiting for number thirteen to arrive from New Zealand. Since we had our Games Credentials, which act as free passes for all public transportation for the duration of World Games, we ventured onto the Metro (subway) to get there. The Greek subway is not unlike that in New York and London. It’s very clean and somewhat efficient. It makes for an easy way to get around to the main points of the city.

The Acropolis was pretty cool. The hike to the top was a little challenging in that it was fairly steep, there were a lot of (slippery) marble steps, and there were a lot of people. A cruise ship was giving its tour while we were there, and it was insane to see how many people were moving up the path all at once. Six of us made it to the very top (two others stayed at the bottom due to knee issues). I was very surprised at my own knee for not giving way as well. In fact, all of the walking today felt really good. It’s so nice to be mobile.

They’re restoring parts of the Acropolis. It was neat to see some of the cranes at work, and some of the stones numbered and laid out ready for placement. It was a giant puzzle to be put together.

After hiking back down to paved streets, we met a group of protesters. I snapped a few photos before the group began marching. Then, we all realized that they were marching right towards us, and we scurried to get out of their way. One of our members wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe so that she could contribute to her collection of Hard Rock memorabilia. It’s located near Parliament, so we took the subway to another stop and ventured out again. More protest groups, signs and banners blanketed the area around there.

After lunch, we went back to the Acropolis so that we could wander through the Acropolis Museum. Unfortunately absolutely no photography was allowed in that museum. It was interesting to see a lot of the artifacts up close, but more importantly, that place had great air conditioning.

From the museum we tried to get into to see Zeus’ Temple, but it was closed. I snapped a couple pictures through the fence (sorry for the poor quality). We did a little tourist shopping, then made our way back to the hotel to meet the others for dinner. We also received our assignments for the next few days, and the beginning of the Games.

Our roles are not as hands on as originally thought. We are here in more of an observer/support role for the GMS operators at each sport venue. Basically, we’re here to troubleshoot if/when something goes wrong. Depending on how the competitions progress, our roles might evolve, but we’re going with observer/support for now. Tomorrow, our early wake up calls begin and it’s off to work. I’m assigned to the GOC Headquarters for the first few days, working to troubleshoot issues from there. A few of the more experienced committee members are assigned to venues, and will be working out in the field.

All in all, it was a very fun day. I had a great chance to bond with the team; all of them are great people and fun to be around. We were laughing the whole day. The meals I’ve had today have been excellent. There’s a little restaurant near our hotel that we have made our own, having dinner there the past two nights. It’s such a perfect little place: modern, very friendly service, and very fresh food. It felt very good to be out (I really like roaming this city) and moving around before I get stuck in front of a computer for the next few days.

Athens, Day 1: Waiting for the rest of the committee to arrive

Today, the other eleven members of our GMS GOC committee arrived (there are thirteen of us). While I know two of them already, this is my first time meeting the others. I am the new guy on this committee, but I already feel like I’ve been working with all of them for years. They are working on a nickname for me, and I promised them that sometime during the next few days I would do something, good or bad, that will help them.

Since most didn’t arrive until late afternoon, I spent the morning roaming the city. After breakfast and a few errands, with Reuben (head of our committee), we split and I roamed a few more streets on my own. The main roads are very busy, but I’ve found some real hidden gems by exploring the smaller, quieter streets.

There are a bunch of little parks scattered throughout the neighborhoods. I also really like the small shops, some of which are hidden down stairways leading from the narrow sidewalks (like in NYC). Every block or so, there are newspaper stands (kiosks?) that sell beverages, cigarrettes, gum, candy, newspapers and magazines. Some have souvenirs and maps. Some have other small trinkets and necessities. The vendors are also very helpful when I asked for directions and translations.

I’m not sure if it’s just the neighborhood I’ve been exploring, but there are a lot of pharmacies and hospitals around here. I like a lot of the buildings too. There is an eclectic mix of old and new, ancient and modern. I saw one building that I could have sworn was a significant historical monument, only to read the sign (thankfully translated in English) to find out that it was a dentist’s office.

It was a little cooler today. There was a very nice breeze for most of the day, making it much easier to stay out and roam for longer periods of time.  I received my “uniform” today, which thankfully consists of a dry-fit polo shirt. That should make it easier being out while I work.

About the food: It’s only been a few meals, but I am impressed with what I’ve eaten so far. Daphne’s Greek Cafe (in the US)? Meh. Daphne’s Cafe in Athens? Party in your mouth, and everyone is invited. Seriously. So. Good.

I don’t have any food pictures yet (I know, what’s wrong with me?), but there will be some in the near future. So far, I’ve been taking care to eat very light and healthy. I’m trying to keep from being bogged down, since there is so much walking required over the next couple weeks. I want to keep high energy, so I’ve been looking for meals high in fruit and vegetables. This city makes it very easy to find healthy food.

I did splurge on a pita (gyro) for today’s lunch. I just have to say three things about it: 1) from now on, I am eating pitas with the french fries inside of it (how it’s served here). YUM! 2) Even though I ordered it from a fast food chain (Goody’s), it was tastier than a lot of pitas I’ve had in Southern Ca. And 3) YUM!

About my hotel: It says it’s a four star hotel. The outside looks like a four star hotel. But the rooms? The rooms make you think, “Whoa, did I get on to the wrong elevator?” Perhaps the stars are given out by a very jovial, all-accommodating kindergarden teacher who doesn’t want anyone in her class to fail.

But, I’m not complaining. Why? Well, 1) I’m not paying for my room, 2) it’s a place to sleep, and I’m not sharing with anyone (for which I’m extremely thankful), 3) the staff is very helpful, and 4) I like that it’s located slightly away from the main hub of all of the World Games activities (less crowded and noisy at night). Plus, it’s in a really neat neighborhood.

Oh, and another “fun” fact about the hotel? The elevators fit one person and one piece of luggage at a time. It’s funny when we try to pack a bunch of us in at the same time. It feels like a Dial (soap) commercial, “Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everyone else would too?”

Tomorrow, as a group, we’re going into full tourist mode to tacke the Acropolis (Akropoli?) and some more touristy spots. I’m really looking forward to that.

Athens, Day 0 (Travel day)

Traveling to Europe always confuses me (he writes, as if traveling to Europe was a common occurrence for him. This trip makes for a total of… two times). My mind and body have no idea what time it is, though the watch and the clock on my mobile phone scream “It’s 20:13, 20/7/2011!” I’m ten hours into the future; at least, the future from the Los Angeles, CA perspective.

I’m in Athens, sitting in my hotel room (home for 15 days). I made it safely, but not without a few travel stories:

First leg, LAX>Toronto: Quite possibly the worst flight in my entire life. Why? I was sitting in 19D (aisle). There was a teenage boy seated in 19F (window). We were separated by a very nice Canadian woman (19E). Literally (and I don’t use that word unless I really mean it) the moment the plane moved from the gate, the kid filled the barf bag. Then filled 19E’s. Then filled mine. And this continued at regular intervals all through the 4.5 hour flight.

Almost immediately, the flight attendant offered to move the teenager to a seat closer to the bathroom. He declined, justifying it as “It’s just something I ate. I’m fine now”, only to hurl 5 minutes after she walked away. I later found out that his grandmother was on the same flight, in a row further back. Another fight attendant, about an hour into the flight, offered to change his seat so that he could be closer to his grandmother. Again, the kid declined with another weak justification.

At this point, the sounds and the smell and the alternating empty and full bags being passed back and forth, almost made me lose it. This was about 2 hours into the flight. I stood up, and walked to the back of the plane. Even paced back and forth a little to calm the stomach and the mind. Then asked the (first) flight attendant, “Can you please move him? He’s making me sick too”. She tried, but the teenager vehemently declined again. And at this point, I wanted to beat the hell out of him. But I didn’t, as 19E was being extremely nice to him. Comforting him, helping him out. Talking him through it. I didn’t want to be “that guy” who was mean.

But, I should have. When we pulled up to the gate at Toronto, I bolted.

Second leg, Toronto>Athens: After a 2 hour layover (and an extremely light lunch for me), a 10.5 hour flight was ahead of me. My only thought was “I better not see that f’n kid on this flight”. Instead, I was seated next to the parents from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. Nah, they weren’t the actors from the movie, but they were EXACTLY LIKE THE CHARACTERS they played. In 10.5 hours, they argued, they fought, they cuddled, they tried to feed me extra food, they offered me advice for my trip and for my life, and then they did it again. And again. But, it wasn’t annoying. I found it very entertaining. Two other (elderly) Greek couples on the flight, seated near me, were just as friendly. Very enjoyable.

The flight duration did take it’s toll on me, as I could feel myself getting “punchy” near the end. That teenager should be extremely grateful that he wasn’t on my second flight.

Third leg, Taxi from airport to hotel: Taxi driver was awesome. Drives like crazy (like a lot of other drivers in this city seem to do), but very welcoming and friendly. Was at hotel in 15 minutes (when it should have taken 30).

For some reason, I got a second wind when I reached the hotel. After checking in, I roamed a few blocks. The heat, dehydration, and exhaustion caught up to me very quickly. After a little over an hour, I scrambled back to the hotel and passed out for a three hour nap. Still pretty tired, but feeling better since I’ve been drinking water non-stop. Tonight, a late dinner with my colleague (and leader of our GMS Committee), then right back to bed. The rest of the committee arrives tomorrow.

Perhaps, when I wake up tomorrow morning, my mind and body will agree with my watch and mobile phone.

 

Athens, T-minus 1 (day)

I’m sitting in a hotel room, near LAX, waiting for my early morning flight. I’m anxious. Nervous. Excited. 

From 6/25 thru 7/4, the 2011 Special Olympics World Games are taking place in Athens, Greece. This is the world stage; it’s much bigger than the Summer Games we (in Southern California) put on at Cal State Long Beach each June (which, coincidentally, occurred last weekend). There will be almost 7,000 athletes, from 181 different countries, competing in 23 different sports. 

My job begins on 6/21. I will be working on a committee as support for the Games Management System (GMS) software, which is what we use to handle games registration, credentials, scheduling, divisions, brackets, and results. As part of my job, for SOSC, I oversee the organization’s usage of GMS, so this is a natural fit for me. Though, I’m really hoping that I won’t be “stuck” in front of a computer the whole time.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting into. This will be my first time on this committee, and my first World Games experience. To add another layer of challenges, the GMS software version we are using (v6.0) is new, and has many user interface and feature updates and additions. This is the first time v6.0 will be used during a competition event. And, we’re working with a Games Organizing Committee (GOC) made up mostly of Greek citizens, so there’s the element of communication that we need to be wary of as well. 

All in all, I’m looking forward to this. This is a tremendous opportunity and a big set of new challenges for me to take on (I love facing new challenges at work). I’m nervous because, I want to perform at my absolute best until the World Games close. I’m anxious because, I want to dive right into work. And, I’m excited because… well, I get to go to Greece!

I plan to write a post at the end of each day. I want to capture each day’s highs and lows. I think that these few weeks are going to fly by very quickly. 

You can follow the Games at: http://athens2011.org/en/
​You can follow the Team USA athletes at: http://www.specialolympicsteamusa.org/2011/ 

(SOSC has eight athletes competing as part of Team USA).