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HOTLANTA // hoping for Hot sales Cool profits

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Kevin Harriott just wanted to cool off. The temperature here in Atlanta is a bit higher than his hometown of London, and the heat was beginning to take its toll.

"When I got off the plane, it hit me in the face like a boxing glove," said the 22-year-old student. "I could barely breathe."

Now, at 3 p.m. beneath a bluebird sky, the city is at its worst. The mercury hovers in the mid-90s with humidity to match.

It feels like a sauna beside the Reflecting Pool, a 50- by 150-foot water basin, surrounded by hundreds of heat-tortured tourists.

Harriott dangles his feet in the water for a few minutes, but eventually, the temptation proves too much. He rolls up his pants legs and wades in.

"Ahhhhhhh " he says. "This feels sooooo good."

The relief, however, will be temporary.

"Hey you! Out of the pool!"

Harriott looks around for what sounds like the Voice of God.

"Yeah you! No standing!"

Harriott turns to see a woman in a pith helmet holding a bullhorn. She points directly at him and looks like she means business.

"Me?" Harriott says, playing dumb.

She nods. He shrugs. Busted by the pool police.

"What's the big deal?" he yells back.

Eric Wise comes to his friend's defense. "What about them?" he says, pointing to a group of women knee-deep in water at the far end of the pool. "They're baptizing people over there."

The security officer diverts her attention to the new group of offenders. Two 10-year-olds from Albany see their big chance and dive in. "Yahoooo!"

The guard turns, but it is too late. The perpetrators vanish, dripping into the crowd.

All over the city, people are doing whatever it takes to stay cool. Many were unprepared for the stifling heat.

The bidders who brought the Games to Atlanta told the International Olympic Committee to expect summertime temperatures in the high 70s. But now, even IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch knows that number is 10 to 20 degrees off.

"How did we ever get talked into this?" he asked an aide as he left the air-conditioned IOC offices and was hit by a wall of heat. "They lied, sir," an aide responded.

The oppressive heat, however, has spawned a mini-industry in and around the streets of Centennial Park and the other Olympic venues. Everywhere you turn, vendors are selling things to keep you cool.

"Cool shot get your cool shot," says Barry Strickler as he squirts a stream of water over a woman's head. "Beat the heat."

The piece of surgical tubing with a valve at the end works sort of like a high-pressure water balloon. They sell for $5.

"We'll sell a hundred or more a day," he confesses. "But our rent is so high, we might just break even."

Another big seller is water-filled bandannas that go under various names such as arctic, polar or cool ties. They hold 16 to 20 ounces of water, mixed with some secret crystals, to keep you cool. The initial chill lasts a couple of hours, and when the bandanna gets warm, just pop it in the fridge and you're good to go.

Around the corner, Jim Mangum hopes to make a killing off his Misty Mate, a hip-mounted personal cooling system that sells for $35.

"You just pump it up and then you get a very fine, cooling mist," says Mangum, a self-professed cool dude. "People love it. We just installed a larger system in Deion Sanders' golf cart."

But by far the hottest cool attraction is the Fountain of Rings in the heart of Centennial Plaza. More than 80 feet long, with each ring measuring 25 feet in diameter, the water system is heralded as the world's most technologically advanced computer-synchronized fountain in the world.

Five times a day, the fountains put on a show to the sound of the 1812 Overture finale by Tchaikovsky or Vangelis' Chariots of Fire. But it's during normal operation _ when the fountain's 250 jets pump water 4 to 12 feet in the air, creating low-pressure water curtains _ that crowds really go wild.

Ron and Kathy Reehling of Indianapolis see the fountains as a temporary babysitter.

"We just sit back and relax in between events," he says as 10-year-old Grant and 6-year-old Amanda frolic in the mist. "It cools them off and after 20 minutes they are dry."

But a few blocks away at The Rain Room, Tom Layden sees the Fountain of Rings as competition. A buck buys you unlimited access for one day to a 20-foot by 20-foot, mist-filled room where the temperature is said to be 40 degrees cooler.

"People say why should we pay a dollar when we could go to the fountains for free," he says. "So I say, "You trust that water? You'll get cholera in there.' That's always good for a sale."