NAGANO, Japan — I had a dream Ilia Kulik and Pasha Grishuk swapped costumes, and no one noticed.
I had a dream Hermann Maier flew out of control on the downhill run, crashed into Akebono, and then both got up, dusted themselves off, and stomped off to kick some Dream Team USA hockey butt.
I had a dream Tara Lipinski threw her Big Hat into the White Ring, landed an unprecedented triple Hakuba-triple Shiga Kogen combination, and then celebrated her gold medal by donning an Aqua Wing and body-surfing the M-Wave in the Japan Sea.
I'm only kidding, of course.
Who could dream when there was so little sleep to be had?
Those of you watching on CBS may have missed it--those of you watching on CBS may have missed a lot of things--but we were actually covering two Olympics in Japan.
There were the Good Morning Hakuba! Olympics, which began around 9 in the morning here (4 in the afternoon where you are), which had writers busing up the mountain to file their daily ski cancellation stories, then busing back down to cover hockey and luge under the crunch of U.S. deadlines.
At 4 p.m. here (11 p.m. where you are), it was time to collapse and, possibly, take some nourishment.
This usually took the form of a bowl of miso soup with soba noodles--for variety, there was also miso soup with ramen noodles--and a scoop of seasoned rice and a wishful "Caesar salad" that consisted of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red peppers and oil and vinegar.
(And apples. Great apples. Amazing apples. The best apples I have ever tasted, wringing with juice and as big as softballs. A colleague from Seattle insists Washington apples are just as good, but I merely chalked that up to the lad having watched one too many triple salchows. If they had an Olympics for apples, Nagano would take the gold, and the silver, and Washington and New Zealand would be scuffling for the bronze.)
After that, it was on to the Late Night With Elvis Stojko Olympics, in which writers would trek off to White Ring for figure skating, which began 7 p.m. here (2 a.m. where your are) and kept us hacking away some times until 4 in the morning here (11 a.m. where you are).
Then it was back to the Yamagimachi Media Village--affectionately referred to by the scribes as "Stalag 14"--for a few hours on a bed the size of a standard computer desktop, and just as firm.
Then we got up and did it again.
Under the most pristine conditions, sportswriters are a cranky lot. But take away their sleep and their Spectravision and their native language and pelt them with the greatest hits of the Weather Channel for two weeks and you've got a group capable of leveling a Japan Alp or two with full-scale, high-decibel carpet whining.
This is where Nagano salvaged its Games, where Nagano won over the crustiest of cynics, where Nagano righted the ship the way Brian Shimer never could.
Day after day, the hospitality, friendliness and good nature of the local people never ceased to amaze or disarm. Tales of extraordinary acts of kindness got passed around with the same kind of did-you-hear incredulity as the latest news of derring-do by the Hermannator.
One writer said he lost his camera on three separate occasions--in cabs, on long-forgotten chairs in a media sub-center--and had it returned every time.
Another writer accidentally left some belongings in the backseat of a taxi, only to remember after the cab had driven away. With the help of a volunteer with a cell phone, the driver was notified and within eight minutes had returned with the package.
When the writer thanked the driver and asked him his name, the driver asked why. He was told that the reporter was so impressed by his promptness he wanted to write about it for his newspaper.
Looking upset, the driver politely refused. Through a translator, the driver said that he would be publicly embarrassed if it was reported he had allowed a passenger to leave his taxi without alerting the passenger he had left something behind.
One night in the main press center restaurant, a waiter brought our table a bottle of white wine when we had ordered red. It was an easy mistake--Cabarnet, Chardonnay--for someone amiably struggling to take an order in English.
When he realized his error, a look of utter horror crossed his face. "Oh, I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he said before spinning on his heel and virtually sprinting into the kitchen.
Seconds later he returned with the right bottle, bowing deeply and apologizing to every one at our table.
A daily highlight for me was walking to the media bus past the guard shack outside the service center at Stalag 14. Assigned to the shack was the friendliest security in all of Nagano, a guard who would greet passers-bys with an enthusiastic salute and the newest snippet of English he had doubtlessly crammed to memorize the night before.
Cherubic and middle-aged, he would smile broadly and call out, "How are YOU?"
A few days later, after observing the Western custom of handshaking in action, he would boldly step forward, stick out his hand and try it himself.
"How are YOU?"
Invariably, someone would mention the weather and he would instantly brighten.
"Yes! It is cold! But I am . . . "
He would pause, trying to remember the exact phrasing, and then began thumping both hands on his chest.
"But I am . . . HOT . . . in here!"
That was Nagano '98 in a dried green seaweed shell.
It was cold--miserable, depressing, morale-sapping cold outside.
But it was hot in here.