Coming back from a late dinner near the beach Thursday night with three other American journalists, we ran into a solid wall of people on Nossa Senhora, one of the major arteries in Copacabana, a block from and parallel to the beach.
It took us a second to figure out what was going on. Party? Protest? It was a massive crowd for around midnight on a weeknight, even in a late-night culture like Brazil. The mood was jocular and expectant, with a wide diversity of ages and people. Then it hit us: the Olympic torch relay. We'd been getting traffic warnings pushed to our phones all day.
Sure enough, the first police motorcycles started clearing a path through the crowd, followed by more police leading giant, slow-moving corporate sponsor vehicles with blazing lights and blaring speakers (Coke, Nissan, the bank Bradesco), followed by more police leading support vehicles.
Finally, after about five minutes of this very odd procession at a walking pace, the torch appeared, a middle-aged man carrying it at a trot. And people went nuts. The streets were lined three deep already, but more people ran along with the torch, taking pictures and running ahead.
I have been getting torch relay updates for months from the official games Twitter account and it's easy to be more than a little cynical about it. I mean, is it really that big a deal? It's a torch. But the people of this very residential neighborhood were up late and excited to see it.
One of the lingering questions of these games has been, how much will greater Rio care, the parts of the city far from the Olympic village in a neighborhood far-flung from the traditional urban core?
Thursday night into Friday morning, as the flame burned brightly, Rio cared a great deal.
THE DAY AHEAD: While a few sports (like women's soccer) are already under way, the games officially kick off with the Opening Ceremonies tonight at Rio's famous Maracana soccer stadium. It'll be a little odd with the United States marching in early (as Estados Unidos) behind Michael Phelps, but wait until the end, just before host Brazil, when the Refugee Olympic Team marches in. Seeing those 10 athletes, all displaced, united under the Olympic flag will be one of the sentimental highlights of the entire Olympics.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock