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‘Poltergeist’ Meets ‘Speed’ on Trip to Forget

July 22, 1996

EDITOR’S NOTE: The road to the Atlanta Olympics can take many twists and turns, especially if a rookie’s driving the shuttle bus. Here’s the not-so-mythic tale of how one Olympic visitor made it all the way to Athens.

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By MIKE NADEL

AP Sports Writer

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) _ Ah, Athens.

Birthplace of the modern Olympics. Home of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Center of ancient mythology and culture.

Oops. Wrong Athens.

Then again, it’s all Greek to many of us here in Georgia _ including quite a few of the bus drivers hired to transport athletes, officials and the media during these Games of the 26th Olympiad.

My not-so-excellent adventure began innocently enough Sunday outside a suburban Atlanta hotel. I boarded the media bus at 1:30 p.m., giving myself plenty of time to get downtown by 3 p.m.

Sitting comfortably in the air-conditioned bus, I looked up from the newspaper to notice that we weren’t going toward Atlanta on Interstate 85.

I could have sworn that the sign on the front of the bus said ``MTM″ _ Media Transportation Mall.

So I took another look. Yes, it said ``MTM.″ But it also said ``UGA Sanford Stadium″ and ``UGA Stegeman Coliseum.″

Uh-oh.

So I asked the driver, an out-of-towner named Chad, if we were, indeed, headed for the University of Georgia in Athens _ site of some Olympic volleyball, rhythmic gymnastics and soccer action.

Yes.

And how long would it take to get there? ``About 5 minutes,″ he said.

Not bad. I sat down and resumed reading, figuring I had little choice but to go along for the ride.

About 15 minutes later, the bus was still chewing up I-85. And there was a road sign: ``Athens 38 miles.″

Chad, I noted, had an official Olympic bus driver’s map book balanced on the steering wheel.

I pulled out my own map and gave Chad directions, and we arrived safely at the Stegeman Coliseum. I awakened two colleagues and asked if it was their stop. ``No English,″ said one. ``Volleyball?″ I asked, making a toss-and-serve motion. ``Yes,″ said the other. I shooed them off the bus.

We pulled into the Sanford Stadium parking lot. I got out and called my boss to tell him that, since it already was 3:10 p.m., I would be late.

He laughed. (Thank God.)

Chad tried to get the bus going forward. He couldn’t. So he began pushing buttons. The doors opened and closed as the bus whirred and whined in disapproval.

It was like ``Poltergeist″ meets ``Speed.″

Finally, we got going. As Chad pulled away, he knocked over a street sign.

Then it started getting hot. The air conditioning had stopped working. Perhaps during Chad’s button-pushing frenzy.

As we rolled toward Atlanta, Chad became chatty. He kept looking back at me, the bus often weaving into another lane or onto the shoulder, as he talked. A passing motorist would honk and Chad would snap the bus back in line.

Among Chad’s nuggets: ``I only drove a bus 10 hours total before this trip.″

As we approached the junction of I-85 and I-285, he turned and asked: ``You think I should take the 285 bypass?″

``Uh, don’t we want to go into Atlanta as opposed to bypassing Atlanta?″ I suggested.

Thankfully, Chad stayed on I-85 _ but missed his exit before taking the next one into downtown.

Realizing that we were only a few blocks from the Main Press Center, I asked Chad to let me out. At 5:14 p.m. _ nearly four hours after my trek began _ I stepped into my office.

I was never happier to get to work.

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