Of the Baker City Herald

For a silent symbol, the Olympic Torch makes an awful lot of noise.

Long before your eyes spy the flickering flame in the distance, your ears detect its progress, heralded by a cacophony of jubilant sounds.

Kids toot on screeching noisemakers.

Their parents chant USA! USA!

A Coke truck rolls slowly past, speakers blaring a rock n roll ode to Salt Lake City while enthusiastic Coke people hand out 20-ounce plastic bottles of Coke to spectators who already have 50-cents-off coupons for Coke.

One inventive young man even clangs together a pair of cooking pot lids, as if they were cymbals and the Torch his conductor.

Everyone, it seems, is in a rare state of excitement, despite the slush soaking into their shoes.

But then, how often does a symbol known in every country of the world visit Baker City, whose very existence has been a revelation to many an Oregonian?

Its once in a lifetime, said Theona Hambleton, who stood along Main Street to await the flames arrival Friday afternoon.

Im excited.

Hambleton and her husband, Jim, are both Baker City natives.

Jim said hes proud of his hometown.

Theres a lot of the cities that didnt get this, he said. Chalk one up for Baker.

The Hambletons were among hundreds of spectators who lined every block of the Torchs approximately 1.5-mile route.

And although the Olympics is, of course, an athletic event, the predominant feeling along the way was patriotism.

Almost every hand clutched an American flag, and if you didnt have one, a Boy Scout was ready to remedy the situation.

Kelly Aydelotte of the North Baker Parent-Teacher Organization gathered her children and two other North Baker students to create a portable tribute to America.

Each member of the quintet wore a white shirt with a big red letter, and standing together (in the proper order, of course) the group spelled out GO USA.

(For the record, the G was Elizabeth Eakin, the O Justin Aydelotte, the U was Kelly, the S Jordyn Aydelotte and the A Amelia Eakin.)

Someone stuck a big flag in the slushy berm in the center of Campbell Street.

After even a short stroll along the Torchs route it was obvious that even as Americans look forward to next months competition on the snowy slopes of Utah, they often pause to look back to the rubble of Manhattan on Sept. 11.

Its neat to see the people pull together, and the Olympics is a way to do that, said Sharon LaMiller, who lives in Wyoming but is spending the winter in Baker City visiting family and trying to sell a house.

LaMiller watched the Torch from a relatively uncrowded section of sidewalk along Campbell Street just west of the Powder River.

Nothings stronger than the Olympic spirit, she said. This is truly what the United States is all about.

And what Baker City is about, too.

I think this is a great opportunity for the city to share its spirit, said City Manager Gordon Zimmerman. Im just tickled to death with the whole effort.

Zimmerman said he wanted the Torch to come here as soon as he got a phone call last year from a representative of the Torch Relay Committee.

It would have been a terrible waste to have the Olympic Flame speed past the city in a truck rather than stop here, Zimmerman said.

He assigned the project to Jennifer Watkins, the citys community development coordinator, and she, along with Diane Adams of Historic Baker City Inc., and Ginger Savage, put together a local committee.

But they didnt settle for the Torch Relay alone.

Instead, they helped to organize the citys inaugural WinterFest, which included a variety of events Friday and Saturday in the city, at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort and at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

Zimmerman said the addition of WinterFest to the weekends festivities encouraged some spectators to come from outside the area.

He said a John Day man called to ask if there was anything happening in Baker City besides the Torch relay, and whether it was worth driving 80 miles over several snowy passes.

Zimmerman told the man about WinterFest, and he ended up bringing his family over from Grant County.

Other people braved slippery roads to see the Torch.

Greg Vroman of Union traveled to Baker City with his sister, Lora Johnston of La Grande.

Johnstons daughter, Brittney, 9, is a member of Troop 706 of the Girl Scouts, which sponsored one block of Main Street.

You dont get to see the Olympic torch every day, Lora said.

Vroman, who moved to Union from Kenai, Alaska, last October, said he has always been a fan of the Winter Games.

Ive always wanted to see the Torch, said Vroman, who held his baby nephew, Hunter.

Hunter, whose bright red cheeks peeked out from the folds of a two-sizes-too-big stocking cap, has one up on his uncle now.

Hunter has already seen the torch.

And he wont turn 1 until February.