LONDON – I didn't mean to crash a top-secret rehearsal for the London Olympics' July 27 opening ceremony. I was just trying to validate my credentials before the Olympic Park was mobbed. If I am hauled into some sports court and you never hear from me again, here's my minute-by-minute defense.
11:10 a.m. Saturday
On train to park, hit by inspiration. What if I buy a pedometer at the sprawling mall that leads to the Olympic Park, count the vast number of steps between all the Olympic venues and warn visitors to leave their high heels at home? Brilliant! Public service journalism the Pulitzer committee cannot ignore.
At an Olympics operations center near Stratford train station. After 17 minutes it is established that I am not in the computer. After 27 minutes it is discovered I am not an Olympic truck driver. After 31 minutes I am dismissed, sent on an alleged 20-minute walk to a different validation counter.
A momentary setback at the mall: the 20-something clerk at the Sweatshop running store mixes up my weight in kilograms with my height in centimeters while programming the pedometer I just bought. "That's why I didn't go to uni (university)!" he says. Mental note: Future story on British education system.
The mall wing that leads to the Olympic entrance is blocked off so police in forensic suits can investigate a stabbing death from the night before. "Prada is closed?!!" an Asian shopper asks a British policeman in a traditional bobby helmet. "All day," he says. She looks distraught.
Getting hungry. Seventy restaurants to choose from and I order fish and chips. Is that wrong? My tummy doesn't think so.
Walk 637 steps to next mall exit. Realize it's July sales — only time in London that reporters can afford to buy! Stop by Hobbs and leave with a linen dress, 58 percent off.
Finally reach Olympic Park. Kindly security guy asks to see credential. Will be the only one of 15 security workers I talk to today who does.
Through security, no questions about Hobbs sale bag. Quite a number of people flowing south to Olympic Stadium. Media center is north, but since much of the park is blocked off by barriers, helpful security guy tells me to go around the stadium.
It's 621 steps to the Orbit tower next to Olympic Stadium. Of course its observation desk is closed. I am a magnet for closed tourist hotspots. Still, I quite like its smashed train-wreck design.
2: 40 p.m.
Realize the path is leading into the stadium, not around. Turn back against the tide. Speak to woman with walkie-talkie in purple Olympics jacket. "You are not a performer?" she asks in dismay. No, not unless director Danny Boyle is looking for a rubenesque 50-something to portray Mother Earth.
We walk back to front of stadium, she criticizes guard for not noticing my lack of a visible credential. He shrugs. "He keeps letting people in!" she says. Mental note: Switch focus of story to Olympic security. Suddenly 23,700 security agents and 12,000 police doesn't quite seem enough.
We chat. She says 2,000 performers are expected today for the secret rehearsal, 10,000 in all for the opening ceremony. I am aghast. Clearly she is too young to know the British World War II mantra of "loose lips sink ships!" She would be mincemeat — MINCEMEAT — in the hands of a British reporter, some of whom have wired shirts, tiny cameras, bags of cash and honorary PhDs in phone hacking. At this rate, pirates will have the entire video out within days.
Still walking north. Nice creek, guess it used to be a sewage mudflat before the Olympics. Pretty batch of outdoor Olympic tiles. I ask the lone guard what the area is for, she doesn't know. "They don't tell us anything," she says.
Call our London Olympics beat reporter. No, she hadn't heard about the rehearsal. She is just back from a sleepover in the Athletes Village, where road crews woke her up at 3:30 a.m. I send 130 words on the rehearsal to our editing desk to tell the world.
Stumble into the field hockey validation tent. Bad memories of when the nuns at my high school tried to teach me the sport. Why can you only use one side of the stick? Not the right place again. Kindly workers give me a map, confirm that media validation center is practically in Siberia.
Helpful security guy in parking lot confirms: Go down the street, up the stairs, across the walkway over the road, through two sets of doors, into the parking lot, down the far stairs, across several bus terminal lanes and you are there. I take pictures of posters about forbidden items. Luckily am not trying to smuggle a rabid cat into the U.K.
Oh dear. I now hear Olympic honchos hate details about opening ceremonies getting out. Possible yanking of credential. What? I'm not even validated yet.
At the validation center, six bored staffers come to life amid rows of empty lines. Someone to process! They debate who gets to do it. I mention the phrase "Siberia," they heartily agree. Process takes 15 seconds. I snap their picture. Head over to see AP's Olympic office, but it's not open yet. At least it's right by the snack counter.
Walking back, take picture of Olympic Stadium. Whoa, heavy clouds overhead. Good luck with that British weather for the games.
Soaring classical music suddenly emanates from the stadium. A rousing chorus. A fierce clash of drums. These can't be state secrets. British bookies probably don't even take bets on drums at opening ceremonies, too sure an outcome.
Off train, glance at pedometer. 12,765 steps. Oh yeah. Got an Olympic workout.