Archive for April, 2008

The Passing of the Torch

Monday, April 14th, 2008

By Kate O’Donnell
While there may not be such a thing as a ‘usual’ day at the Exploratorium, when I pulled in to work last Wednesday, I knew I was in for something different.

For one, there was a plane circling above my head towing a massive “FREE BURMA” sign. For two, every one and thing in the city was buzzing about our newly arrived guest.

San Francisco was hosting an international celebrity, one whose whereabouts were a deeply desired yet hidden secret. I’m talking, of course, about the Olympic torch.

For weeks on end it was a main topic of conversation and debate. Trying to prevent London and Paris from repeating themselves, Mayor Newsom had decided that the Olympic torch processional would be held in an undisclosed (and changed-numerous-times-at-the-last-minute) location. The protesters were outraged. The police prepared for security lockdown. And as for us here at the Exploratorium? Well, we just happened to get front row seats.

Our VIP view of the Olympic torch drama had begun earlier in the week when protesters scaled cables on the Golden Gate Bridge to hang giant “FREE TIBET” signs high in the air. Our roof cam—which lets you zoom in on different views from atop the Exploratorium—caught some great pictures of the signs going up, flying high, and being taken down by the police.

Click the picture to see a series of shots from our roof cam over the course of the morning.
To visit our roof cam, please click here.

As far as I was concerned, that would be my close-up view of the torch affair for the week. Then on Wednesday around 3pm, the hottest thing in America suddenly landed in the Exploratorium’s lap.

The surreal episode began like an African thunderstorm: first one drop, then two, then ten thousand. One minute I was crossing the street between the museum and administrative offices and it was a peaceful Marina afternoon—quiet, with a light breeze and the occasional jogger. The next minute I was reading an e-mail from a colleague across the street: “Um, there are a lot of cops over here. Like, a LOT of cops. I think the torch might be coming.”

I rushed out of the museum, but by the time I got outside the place had already undergone a major transformation. Sirens were squealing as helicopters roared overhead and hundreds of motorcycles filled the streets. What seemed like the entire San Francisco police motorcade had lined the road as far as I could see, and MUNI buses of policemen on foot were pulling in and unloading. The mayor and Chief of Police arrived just as the first protesters on wheels zoomed in with signs and megaphones. Within minutes hundreds of people were streaming in, signs and voices raised.

While San Francisco was doing its best to keep the press at bay, the headline of the week had just landed in our backyard. I was pleased and unsurprised to see fellow Exploratorium staff running out with still cameras, video cameras, and audio recorders. As the procession came by—led by an amphibious duck vehicle and featuring none other than former SF Mayor Willie Brown as torchbearer—I had to smile. The torch route may have changed numerous times, the Exploratorium staff alerted to its presence merely a minute or two ahead of time, but leave it to the Explo to still create complete documentation of the event.

Documentation, of course, to share. Below is a link to a slideshow of our collected pictures. Hopefully it can offer a fun alternative to other media coverage that, as Mary rightly put it, has been treating the Olympic torch like Princess Diana. We hope you enjoy as, in the meantime, I look forward what I’m hoping will be Elton John’s next hit: ‘Torch Flame in the Wind.’

For slideshow, please click here.