An Olympics Interview
When I went to Atlanta for the Olympics, I envisioned having an opportunity to interview someone associated with the Olympics, perhaps a visitor from another country, an athlete, an official or just anyone who had something to do with the event, to serve as a stimulus for me to write about my experience. I presumed, and I was right, that somewhere I'd run into someone that I found unique enough to provide that stimulus.
As it turns out, the most interesting interview I was able to get was with a good looking young man named, Jeff, a 31 year old Atlantan who works for a company called Exhibit Group. He is both a laborer and lead supervisor for that company, and they are the folks who setup and tear down the various physical facilities for major events that come to Atlanta, events such as concerts, conventions, and now the Olympic Games. He related that his company had almost worked him to death in the last few weeks leading up to Opening Day but that he had also made really good money for his efforts, taking home as much as $2000 a week after taxes as a result of his exhausting schedule.
As I talked to Jeff, I learned that he had helped to erect the Swatch building in Centennial Park, which as it turns out was immediately adjacent to that tower where the pipe bomb exploded in the early hours of Saturday morning, July 28th. When he and I first talked, he had just completed about twenty hours of continuous work the day before, helping get that particular site ready for Opening Day.
As a part of those last few feverish hours getting the Swatch building ready for the opening, Jeff told me he had helped to assemble a wall of pictures that stretched from the floor to the ceiling and angled inward slightly so as to give the proper viewing perspective for those looking upward at them from below and covered in a giant sheet of plexiglas to protect them. He worked alongside a young lady he knew only as Annie. Annie, it seems, was in charge on this occasion because it was she who decided whether or not the wall was properly positioned to show off all the pictures in their best light.
After working together for about two hours making sure that the wall was just right, Annie and Jeff parted company. Jeff said it was only after she left that he learned, while talking with some of his fellow Exhibit Group employees, that the Annie who had been directing things and alongside whom he had been working was Annie Leibowitz, who herself had taken all the photographs that they were hanging. Jeff, an aging rocker, was impressed that he had found her so down to earth and unassuming as they worked together.
When I inquired about other things he had done during those weeks of preparation for the Olympics, he told me he had rappelled from the top of the new Olympic Stadium to hang the banners and flags that adorned it. When I asked if this were the first time he had done that kind of thing, he said no that it was a standard activity he had to do for many events at the Georgia Dome, the OMNI, or the World Congress Center.
He related that when he was learning to rappel, under the guidance of more experienced employees with the company, he had passed on the first opportunity he had to prove he could do it, because on that occasion he was being asked to rappel from the top of the Georgia Dome to the floor of the building, a distance of 325 feet. After visiting that facility for the Men's Team Gymnastics Finals, it was easy to understand why he would have refused. That height is imposing, viewed from the seats below. I can but imagine what it must have looked like from the top.
But Jeff said that rappelling wasn't really the most frightening thing he had been called on to do for that company. He said scaffolding was his most dreaded and feared activity because of the tasks he had to perform while erecting them. Sometimes these temporary structures reach a height of 200 feet into the air and are build one level at a time by climbing to the topmost part of the scaffolding and hoisting up a 90 lb. post to serve as the next corner of the four-cornered structure.
In order to achieve this feat, he must stand on a lip on each of those posts, strap himself in with a safety belt to the post on which he was standing and without the aid of attached cabling or any other safety protection physically lift that post over the one he was standing on and place it into the awaiting slot. Not only did the activity require courage, because the lip on which he stood measured only about 6 inches in diameter, but it required considerable strength to hoist the new post above his head and place it into its slot. Jeff's body gave evidence of having done such things in the past as he is quite a physical specimen of manhood.
I found that my interview with Jeff satisfied my desire for someone interesting to talk to about how he experienced the Olympics. Other Atlantans with whom I talked disappointed me, in that most grumbled about the inconveniences they had had to endure in preparation for the Olympics coming to the city. But Jeff seemed as though he enjoyed his role in helping to put it on.
Maybe the other reason I found interviewing Jeff to be so much fun is that his last name is Nelson, and he is my son.