Editor's Note: You can read all of Ryan's stories from Sochi in our storystream.
And now, for some Ryan in Russia rapid-fire observations as we near the finish line of these Winter Games. Well, "rapid-fire" is used liberally, since I'm a wordy sonofabitch who can tell a story ad nauseam. I'm about 80% Rose, 20% Sophia.
- Traffic lanes and, well, pretty much all laws of the road here are merely suggestions. Pass on the shoulder? Go for it! In between lanes? No problem. Hell I saw a car pass 3 busses, a van, and a cop on the highway and forced a car going the other direction to swerve out of the way. Asked my driver why he wasn't pulled over (since he would have been damn near arrested in ‘Merica) and learned it was just a regular cop, not a road cop. That's...interesting. God help you if you're being mugged and a road cop drives by. Not my jurisdiction, pal.
- You know how people trade pins at the Olympics to diversify their souvenir portfolio? Well, I traded one for a sausage. I win.
- There are ample amounts of stray dogs here, but unlike the ones you see Sarah McLaughlin guilt-tripping you over on TV, they all seem to be well fed. And street smart. There's a gang of 8 that roams our ‘hood, and we watched them all approach a crosswalk, sit, wait for a car to pass, and then stroll across the street. Unless you're on a scooter or skateboard, they'll leave you alone. They're all business.
- The one TV channel I watch in my hotel room for the few minutes I'm there and not sleeping is a Russian version of MTV. Just like home there's lots of boundary pushing when it comes to sexuality and all that, was nice to see not everyone toes the Putin party line. Just one glaring difference: they pretty much only play music videos. Weird, huh?! Such a foreign concept (puns are fun!). And not just Russian pop music, of which there is ample supply, but lots of familiar tunes. Even saw "Joyride" by Roxette the other night. Awesome selection.
- Seeing as this was my first trip overseas, my buddy Jeffrey had a dynamite suggestion when it comes to traveling abroad: bring familiar food. Granted they have most of the creature comforts of home like Coke, Coke Light (ha, even the Russians think it's dumb to call it "Diet"), Snickers, Lay's chips (I highly recommend the bacon flavor, but shy away from the red caviar for all the obvious reasons). A couple weeks into the trip, there was just something soothing about tearing into bags of Starbursts and Corn Nuts with English on the wrapper.
- A woman on our crew was at the Bosco store in Sochi (the official clothier of Team Russia-it's like a mash-up of Nike and Nordstrom) and her credit card was declined out of bank caution, not lack of funds. She didn't have enough cash on hand to buy the ridiculously priced sweaters and before panic set in, a woman behind her in line started yelling to the cashier in Russian with a huge grin. The next thing my coworker knew, the woman went up to the counter, pulled out a Visa, and paid for the sweaters while continuing to gleefully shout. No explanation (in English, anyway), just a wink and a nod, and handed over the purchase. Just a random act of Russian, or really, human kindness.
- The lines. Oh my god, THE LINES! Standard fare for a large event, but they're brutal. If you want to work up an appetite, get in the queue for food. I waited 40 minutes for a pizza-like shingle with cheese in the Olympic Park, probably because one woman behind the counter was taking orders, prepping plates, cutting pies, getting drinks, making change, and dealing with people like me who don't speak Russian. But seriously, there are 20,000 volunteers working here, can't you put 2 behind the counter? Do you really need 50 people on lifeguard towers with bullhorns blaring upbeat phrases? We're at the Olympics, we're already excited. Serenity now.
- Of the three cars at our disposal, one is not an official IOC black Audi with the Sochi2014 logo plastered on the side, and it is a SIGHT. Belonging to our Adler born-and-raised driver Vlad, it's an old white van with some Asian artwork on the side which we've affectionately nicknamed the Dragon Wagon. Love pulling up to the fancy-pants Radisson Resort in that beast to hit the gym or grab lunch (or get a massage!). The looks we get from all the NBC execs or IOC people staying there are priceless. Also, Vlad loves him some Euro-disco! His favorite, which will always be a bizarre reminder of this place: "Bahama Mama" by Boney M. It's definitely worth a listen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N5NgZa9ldE). OK, so maybe not definitely, but imagine a mid-40s gruff Russian guy rocking out to this in a van with a dragon on the side. You can't make this stuff up.
- Apparently the Wave isn't the only crowd favorite we've exported to the world (we're sorry, you're welcome). Singing along to "Sweet Caroline" is a big hit, especially with the Dutch. But they'll party anyway to anything, so no surprise there. Although when I belted out the requisite "SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!" that was a new addition to them, at least by the surprised/slightly terrified looks I received. But instead of the soundtrack provided by Neil Diamond, it was a brass band from the Netherlands (in clogs, natch), which seemed fitting at the speedskating oval where the Dutch dominate on the ice and in the stands. Gotta say, their rendition of "Rolling on the River" by Tina Turner was TOP NOTCH! The band leader was beating that drum like it owed him money. Fantastic stuff.
- The only real jeer I heard as I cheered for Team USA was, "Russia is better!" I deducted points faster than a slopestyle judge for creativity, but to be fair, they may have been much crueler when they were shouting in Russian. I'll never know. This is an incredibly difficult language; I have a hard enough time trying to say please and thank you. Although my coworker and I did have a small plastic bottle cap tossed our way, and I'm thinking Russia is better? You're not even better than us at being terrible fans. We throw batteries! (Also, thank you for not throwing batteries.) Plus I clapped for everyone, figured it would help to not seem jingoistic and you know, YAY OLYMPICS GO WORLD! Overall it was a fine experience being an out and proud American in the stands, which should be expected at an international event. But I won't try my luck at a soccer match. I have no desire to be on Fear Factor (or 1000 Ways to Die).
- I made coffee in our office and we were out of cream and sugar, so I hit up our pal Black Valentine at the hotel bar. I felt a little guilt for passing on the hotel brew (but not really, because sludge), so I tipped him 50 rubles, or about a buck-fifty, and that's when it happened. My irrepressible charm finally worked its magic, and the man cracked a smile! "DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!" Once I realized I hadn't turned to stone, I felt like I accomplished something truly special. But only for a fleeting moment as he snapped out of it, angrily picked-up my money, walked around the bar, handed it back to me, pointed at the cream and sugar and said, "small." I don't know if he meant the service was too small to deserve a tip, or if the tip was insufficient, or what have I done please don't hurt me! Bewildered, I accepted my refund and slowly walked away. I'm not going to question Black Valentine.
But I still want my medal.
A little about me: A native of Seattle, I was born at Swedish Hospital (blocks away from the Capitol Hill gay bars...a little foreshadowing!), graduated with a degree in Journalism and Sport Management from Washington State University (class of '03, Go Cougs!). Moved to LA two weeks after graduation and have lived in and loved my adopted hometown ever since. Landed my first job with FOX Sports in September of 2004 running TV compounds for NFL, MLB, the BCS while we had it, and NASCAR. After another stint with FOXSports.com, I have been with FOX Sports 1 since June of last year.