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Dave Barry: Rio is great, if you can find the lobby

The Copacabana Beach is a prime destination in Rio de Janeiro, at least for those not scared away. (Petr David Josek / Associated Press)
The Copacabana Beach is a prime destination in Rio de Janeiro, at least for those not scared away. (Petr David Josek / Associated Press)
By Dave Berry Miami Herald

RIO DE JANIERO – I went to the Atlantic Ocean to check out the water quality so I could write a Think Piece about it.

A Think Piece is a term we use in professional journalism for when we have a Deep Thought about something. The traditional format for an Olympic Think Piece is:

“Most people think of the Olympic Games as just a fun sporting event on TV. However, X.”

“X” is always something bad, such as poverty, corruption, racism, sexism, drugs, overspending, terrorism or poop in the water. The purpose of a Think Piece is to cause you, the reader, to think: “What a dope I have been, sitting around enjoying the Olympics on TV and not even thinking about X! I shall cease enjoying the Olympics immediately!”

Don’t thank us journalists; we’re just doing our job.

So anyway, I decided to do my Think Piece about the water quality here (Spoiler Alert: It is bad) because the Atlantic Ocean – which contains a large quantity of water – is close to my hotel.

My first challenge, as a journalist, was to figure out how to get from my hotel room to the lobby. I’m staying in an older hotel, and, like so many foreign hotels, it uses the Random Floor Naming System, which, like so many foreign things, is specifically designed to baffle Americans. We Americans are used to a floor-naming system – technically called the “Logical System” – wherein the bottom, or first, floor, is named “One.” OK, sometimes it is named “Lobby,” but then the floor directly on top of it – aka the second floor – is named “Two.” This is how God intended for hotel floors to be named.

But this is not how my Rio hotel does it. The bottom four floors here are named – I am not making this up – “P,” “G,” “S” and “T.” (That might not be the correct order; despite having been here for two days, I still don’t know the correct order.) Above these four floors – I, as an American, would call this the fifth floor – is floor “One.”

My room is on floor “P.” I am pretty sure the lobby is on floor “T.” All I know for certain is that every time I get on the elevator, especially if it is later in the evening and I have had a couple of caipirinhas (more on these later) I stare at the buttons, which look like a bad Scrabble hand, and desperately try to figure out (a) where I am, and (b) where I am going.

I keep getting off on the wrong floor. Sometimes I wind up back in the lobby, where the same bellman who just nodded politely when I got on the elevator nods politely again, while clearly thinking about sneaking a video of me so he can post it on the popular Brazilian reality TV show “Idiotas Em Elevadores” (“Idiots On Elevators”).

Anyway, I eventually made it outside, where I saw – as I have everywhere in Rio – soldiers holding large guns. I thought about making them the “X” in my Think Piece (“While dopes such as you are enjoying the Olympics, soldiers with large guns” etc.) but I decided to stick with water quality, so I pressed on to the beach.

I’m staying in Copacabana, home of the world-famous Copacabana Beach, which was teeming with people who must have been uninformed about all the troubling Olympic issues because they appeared to be having a really good time. Some of them were even going into the ocean, but fortunately they were shot by soldiers before they could be adversely affected by the water quality.

No, seriously, they were swimming around out there like it was no big deal. I considered warning them, as a journalist, about the danger they faced, but my wife and daughter, who had accompanied me, were thirsty and hungry, so we stopped at one of the many outdoor restaurant/bars on the beach promenade. My wife and I ordered the traditional Brazilian cocktail, the caipirinha, which is made with a potent alcoholic substance that the Brazilians call “pinga,” which strikes Cubans such as my wife as hilarious because to them it is a dirty word. In fact, I will be curious to see if the preceding sentence makes it into the Miami Herald.

Anyway, the caipirinhas were delicious, and it was a beautiful evening, and there was music playing – there is music everywhere here – so we ended up having a couple of more caipirinhas, and before we knew it, the sun had gone down. So I never did make it all the way to the Atlantic. But I did have a really nice time. Or I would have, if not for X.

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