Little kids love Christmas. They lie awake listening for the clatter of reindeer hooves on the roof and the “ho, ho ho” of the jolly fat man. But what if Santa came back every night? Those same kids would dread the clatter of reindeer hooves and the booming voice shouting down the chimney: “Hiya kids! Got nothing for ya. On Dancer! On Prancer!”

For awhile, that appeared to be the principle behind the Olympic countdown clock. Months after the closing ceremonies it sat on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery with the same readout: 0000; 00:00:00. In February 2007 the clock started ticking off the seconds to what then seemed an impossibly far-off date with the world in 2010. Once the Games began, it counted up the days, hours, and minutes until the grand finale. Afterward it just sat, a digital shelf offering up two rows of stale doughnuts. Like January visits from Santa, the message of the Olympic Clock repeats every day: “Sorry, suckers. Got nothing for ya.”

Finally, this October, somebody wised up and the clock was moved—split in half, in fact, with one part headed for Whistler and the other to the refurbished BC Place. And yet what the clock represented is still very present. Everywhere you look in the city you’ll find reminders that this isn’t the winter everyone was waiting for. Robson Square, last February’s throbbing civic heart, has been a construction zone for months. BC Place looks like a bald guy with his hat off. The former parking lot on the corner of West Georgia and Cambie that was home to the Canada Pavilion is, well, a parking lot. Down by the new convention centre, the four-armed Olympic Torch sits like a dead campfire. Some have called it beautiful; some have said it looks like a memorial to fallen pipefitters and furnace-duct repairmen. Instead of escalating excitement, we have only memories of past glory. It all evokes comparisons to Edmonton and its City of Champions sign along the highway. Erected in the heady days of great Oilers and Eskimos teams, the sign should probably now be fitted with a device that triggers mocking laughter as you drive by.

It’s understandable that we face a collective letdown this post-Olympics winter. Last year at this time we were both excited and nervous, bracing for God knew what. Then Hurricane 2010 struck full force and for two weeks we hung on for dear life. In the end it turned out pretty well.

The release of tension may be part of the letdown. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill wrote that “nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” We survived the Olympics and now life seems a little too quiet. Perhaps what Vancouver needs this winter is some trouble. A Middle East peace conference perhaps. Or maybe just a big sign on the edge of town reading: “Hey, Al-Qaeda! You’re Not So Tough.” Anything to remind us that for a couple of weeks there, our sleepy burgh was quite the little hot spot.

Not that we have escaped potential Olympic-related troubles. The largest of all 2010 mausoleums is located on Southeast False Creek, that lovely, state-of-the-art Echo Valley known as the Olympic Village. It was intended to be a model community, and indeed it is. Today the Olympic Village boasts roughly the same number of inhabitants its tabletop architectural model had. The potential civic debt load from the condo project represents just the sort of unnecessary burden that was predicted by thoughtful critics (none of whom were smashing windows or holding up signs behind the CTV broadcast booth). The Olympic Village could go on generating nasty headlines and protests for a while yet.

All told, though, our Olympic hangover is relatively mild. Pity South Africa, now dotted with mammoth, nearly useless stadiums from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It only wishes its white elephants were modern, eventually saleable condos. While it’s fair to argue about spending priorities, there’s no doubt the Canada Line and Sea-to-Sky Highway left our region with tangible long-term benefits. As for those gloomy reminders visible around town, pretty soon we’ll have our Robson Square rink up and skating once more. BC Place will have a fancy new toupée. Every now and then they’ll find an excuse to light up the Olympic furnace ducts.

As for the now-two Olympic clocks, a city official says they will be used to herald future sporting events. But why limit them to a snowboard festival in Whistler or a Lions game? We could use them to count down the days, hours, and minutes until the HST referendum on September 24, 2011.

Now that’s a competition that will sell T-shirts. VM