Park City, Utah Hal Levine of Steamboat Springs won't get much sleep during the Winter Olympiad; he'll be lucky to average four hours a night. But it's not because he's attending three events a day. And it's not because he's partying until the wee hours you can't pin that rap on Hal.
The truth is Hal isn't sleeping because Hal is doing big business. He's in the commemorative pin business.
"I haven't been to bed before 2 a.m. in a week," Levine said in between waves of customers. "I get up by 7 or 8. I'm working 20-plus hours a day."
You might work as hard as Levine if you only opened your store for business once every two years or so. Levine attended his first Olympic games in Los Angeles in 1984. He became an authorized Olympic vendor at Barcelona in 1992 and is currently in the midst of his seventh Olympics. He went to Sydney, Australia, two years in advance to negotiate with the local organizing committee and contracted a prime space for his pin vending business.
In reality, Levine opens his business more often than once every two years; at Nagano in 1998, he opened 100 days in advance of the games, and in Sydney, he opened up a full year ahead of time.
Small enamel pins and the swapping of the same have become a social locus of the Olympics both summer and winter.
In Park City, men, women and children parade up and down Main Street displaying their collections. Their ball caps are covered with pins and their fleece vests are wallpapered with pins. Independent vendors are granted a small table in the bustling Coca-Cola tent, where people coming in off the street can barter with collectors from Japan and Finland.
Some of the hottest pins in Utah this month include any affiliated with law enforcement or major media outlets. But the king of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics is the Jell-O pin, which is going for $150 on the street. Apparently, Utah consumes more Jell-O per capita than most states in the Union.
Levine's hottest-selling pin is a little snowboard bearing an American flag motif, which he sells for $7.
"We've had people come in and tell us it's selling for $30 on the street!" Levine says. "Do you believe people are paying that when they could come in here and buy it for $7? I'm the only one who has it right now. It comes from years of experience and knowing what to buy."
Levine has sublet space at two locations on Main Street and employs 14 people to keep the little enamel pins flowing out the door. He also sells flags in three sizes from all of the participating nations.
There are people in Park City who have been collecting pins for 60 years and people who have been collecting for six days.
Susan and Dave Puskar came to Park City from Baltimore and quickly became intrigued with the pin thing. They look like longtime Olympic fans wearing jackets emblazoned with logos touting Lake Placid, site of the 1980 games. But in fact, they are rookies.
"This is our first Olympics ever," Dave Puskar said. "I came with no pins but I bought five or six and I've run into several sponsors like AT&T, Chevrolet and Kodak giving out pins. I think a lot of people out there think they're worth something, but I don't."
Mostly, the Puskars find the pins a good way to break the ice with strangers.
"We've met a lot of people this way," Susan Puskar said.
One of the more fascinating collectors, who has become a regular on Main Street, is Jim "Lefty" Bruce, who has been collecting pins since 1941. Bruce describes himself as a "Charro Mexican Cowboy" and retired Britannica executive who is a member of the sheriff's posse in Sandoval County, N.M.
He wears a white beard and a pin collection that covers the rounded crown of a battered old black felt hat.
Despite his obvious fascination with Olympic pins and pins of all descriptions, Bruce said he is not so much a collector of pins as he is a collector of anecdotes and sympathetic people.
"I'm a collector of history," Bruce said. "Pins have always been a part of that."
His collection is by no means limited to Lillehammer he reckons his very first pin had something to do with Uncle Sam.
Bruce can't resist telling about the personal correspondence he has shared with political figures like Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater. He has 14 baseballs signed by Ted Williams.
Steer him back to the topic of pins and Bruce will tell you that every pin on his hat today is from the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. They aren't for sale and he's not interested in trading.
But that doesn't mean he hoards them, either.
"I like to give them away," Bruce said. Pointing to a tiny pin made for an elementary school in Norway, he says: "I will find a place for this someday. I'll give it to some child it might be a 10-year-old I meet at the Olympics."
If Lefty Bruce adds to his collection in Park City, it won't be with pins that bear any corporate logos.
"I'm looking for those truly elegant pins," he says and saunters away.
Meanwhile, Levine is seated behind the 10-foot-long counter he has rented within a local jewelry store. He is pawing through boxes of numerically coded pins while his counter help work with 14 people jammed around the counter. Levine says things are just beginning to heat up in Park City.
Levine is most proud of a product he commissioned exclusively for his shop during these Winter Games. It is essentially a necklace made to give wearers a safe place to carry their precious Olympic tickets while displaying their pin collection.
The necklace is formed by a heavy ribbon embroidered with the flags of all of the Olympic host nations. The necklace fastens at the breastbone of the wearer with a large circular pin commemorating the Sydney games, and below that dangles a clear plastic pocket for tickets. It retails for $10 including several more pins to get your collection started. And for $5 more, Levine throws in his circular pin commemorating Salt Lake.
However, the pins and the flags don't say it all. After Sept. 11, Levine asked his supplier to embroider the words "World Peace" around the neck of the ribbon.
In any other year, it might sound trite, but Levine believes that peace has always been the primary message of the Olympics.
"During the ancient games, wars would stop so they could play the games," Levine said.
Then he went back to work.