“Are we really going to do this,” Wife asked me. She was half-sitting and half-sleeping on the couch as the athletes were marching into the London Olympic Stadium. About an hour earlier, she had been sitting, and fully awake, admiring the Opening ceremony, amazed by the production and delighted by the appearance by the Queen.
“I mean, they’re just at H, and we’ve seen Finland, this is going to take hours,” she said.
“Oh, it’s only once every four years. Besides, I really think they’ll have a big surprise in the end. It’s not going to be just Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude, I think it’s going to be a Beatles reunion. It’ll be Paul and Ringo and holograms of John and George,” I said.
“You want something to eat? A sandwich?” I then asked her on my way to the kitchen. I didn’t have to see Honduras marching in. But I did want to see the Beatles.
In 1984, the opening ceremony didn’t interest me much, but I did watch it because I had read somewhere that Lionel Richie might be playing at the closing ceremony and while he was not Bruce Springsteen, he was good enough for me.
I mean, hello?
I was also a teenager, and I lived in a country with just two TV channels, and not a lot of pop or rock videos played on those two, so seeing a real American pop star was an event in itself. And to see one perform live was too good, too big, too important to pass.
Also, I simply wanted to be able to say, decades later, that I had seen Lionel Richie sing at the Olympics, and if staying up all night was the price I had to pay for that, so be it.
I mean, all night long.
The Rocket Man entered the scene at 4.40 pm. The sun was still up in Los Angeles, and it was still up at 7.30 when Rafer Johnson lit the Olympic flame. It was still full daylight, and even the announcers noted it, because it made it a little difficult for the audience to see how the fire traveled from the torch to the cauldron.
My friend and I sat in our living room, and we knew it was going to be tough. We knew we’d have to stay tough, give our all, but it was the Olympics so we were ready, even though we were tired already when the show began. After all, it was 2.40 in the morning when the man with the Jet Pac showed up. The sun was out in Finland, too, only, there it had set once, briefly, and had come back up again.
“You tired?” I asked my friend.
“Nope,” said Pepe.
“I am. Let me have that stool for a second.”
That stool was one of our secret weapons. We figured it’d be impossible to fall asleep on a stool, and if you did, you’d fall down and then you’d be wide awake again. It was the best thing since sliced bread.
“You know, I’m a little tired, too. Maybe I should eat something,” Pepe said.
“Don’t eat candy,” I said. “Dad says it’s better to eat dark bread, it’ll give you energy for a longer time. Sugar will just give you a kick and then you’ll get even more tired.”
He nodded. Dad had been our coach for years, so we knew that he knew stuff like that. Dad was also the manager of an appliance store, and he had just recently brought home a slicer. My buddy went to the kitchen, took a loaf of bread and cut two slices.
“Want one?” he asked me.
And so we ate bread. We watched the athletes march in, and by Ghana, it was my turn to make some sandwiches. The slicer was on again by the time Bert Cameron marched in waving the Jamaican flag. I may have fallen asleep around Norway, but Pepe woke me up to eat another piece of bread when it was Pakistan’s turn. We ran out of bread, but we found another one in the freezer and kept slicing away and made it all the way through to Zimbabwe.
“Maybe Lionel Richie will be the last act here,” Pepe said.
“Yeah. He can’t perform before the Olympic flame’s lit, anyway,” I said. “Tired?”
Not at all, Pepe said, and walked to the kitchen.
Reagan’s speech? Another sandwich. Edwin Moses taking the oath? My turn to slice some bread. We had been up all night, it was 5.30 in the morning, and there was still no sign of Lionel Richie.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be the last act, to close out the show,” I told Pepe.
But Lionel Richie never showed up. He did turn up to close out the show, though, but it was in the closing ceremony two weeks later. I stayed up to watch that, too. So if you’re wondering if I saw Lionel Richie perform at the 1984 Olympics, the answer is yes.
Wife hung in there a little past Zimbabwe. She made her funny comments about the clothes the athletes wore but when she realized the torch was still on a boat on Thames, she gave up.
“I’ll hear about the flame anyway,” she said. “I’m going to bed. Are you going to sit here and watch?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I really think the Beatles are going to play. I really do.”
I was wrong. But there’s still the closing ceremony in two weeks.