Have another helping of happy juice; we're in Utah

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— Don't tell anyone, but I think I may have uncovered the first major drug scandal of the Winter Olympic Games.

I'm convinced that everyone in Utah has been exposed to a euphoric agent. Perhaps it's in the water let's call it "Utah Happy Juice."

I first noticed the condition while leaving the ski jumping venue at Utah Olympic Park on Feb. 9. I was walking the path three-quarters of a mile back to the parking lot. Every 30 feet I was greeted by cheerful volunteers. At first I attributed the pervasive ebullience to the snappy uniforms the volunteers have been given gold coats with the Olympic logo, turtlenecks and satchels designed to hug the hips. But I realized there was more to this phenomenon when Joe from Boise high-fived me on the way down the hill.

"What a great day this was!" he shouted at me.

"Oh?" I replied. "Did you get to see part of today's competition?"

"Oh no," he answered. "I have tickets for ice dancing one night, but I'm not sure I'll be able to attend any events."

I walked away scratching my head. This was very suspicious. What was he so happy about? And I have met other people like Joe.

Today, it started with Olle Larsson and his wife, Andrea. I met them while standing in line to go through security. I've noticed that at the Olympics, strangers are suspiciously eager to strike up conversations. Olle Larsson is program director of the Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City.

He is very familiar with the Olympic Alpine courses and told me all about the men's downhill.

"Do you know, that from the start shack, you can look right down on the Great Salt Lake?" Olle asked.

During the course of our conversation, I explained that I was thrilled to be at the super-G, but a piece of my heart was in Soldier Hollow. I'd originally held a ticket for the Nordic combined relay, but a postponement had nullified that ticket.

"I have two tickets for the men's cross country race there today, and I can't use them. Let me give them to you," Olle said. "They are good for the Nordic combined race, too."

"Well, I should pay you for them," I replied.

"Oh no, I just want somebody to be able to use them," he said.

"But I've go to pay you!"

"OK, give me 5 bucks and I'll buy a beer."

I slid a five spot out of my wallet and thanked him profusely. Now, if that's not clear evidence of the effects of Utah Happy Juice, I don't know what is.

Next up, it was a bus driver from St. Petersburg, Fla., named Grady Evans.

I had left the women's super-G early after Caroline Lalive's unfortunate fall, eager to drive the 70 miles or so to Soldier Hollow in time for the Nordic combined race.

Grady helped me out. He was driving a giant motor coach and had just unloaded his charter passengers, who were arriving late for the race. Although I was his only passenger, he graciously agreed to take me on the twisting five-mile ride to the parking lot where my car was parked.

On the way, I got a little of his life story (Grady was born about 50 miles south of Augusta, Ga., and served in the army in Korea in the early '60s) and advice on maintaining a large diesel motor coach (always keep the fluid levels topped off).

"These things will run forever if you take care of them," Grady said.

Halfway down, Grady slipped a disposable camera out of his pants pocket. He had noticed a heavy Nikon hanging off my neck and figured I was his man.

"This is only the second time I've seen snow," Grady said. "I want to show my family pictures of me driving in the snow."

So, I climbed down into the stairwell of the coach and shot some pics of Grady at the wheel, with the towering Wasatch in the background.

Grady was happy. And I was happy.

Now, I know this column is more than a little bit Saccharin for a Monday morning. Some of you are ready to barf on your Sorels by now.

But you can't blame me.

I've been drinking Utah Happy Juice for 10 days now.

Oh yeah, I mentioned that Olle gave me two tickets.

When I got to Soldier Hollow, I stopped at security and yelled out, "Who needs a ticket?"

A guy with a family of four answered, "We could use one. How much?"

"It's free," I said. "Courtesy of Olle Larsson."

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.

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