I knew there had to be a reason that I ended up in New Jersey instead of Florida after leaving Chicago! And here it is, New Year's Eve in Times Square at the start of a new millenium! An opportunity like this doesn't happen too often, so I went despite the tales of gloom and doom from some of my work colleagues, who told me that I was sure to get mugged!
Strangely, none of the New Jersey residents to whom I've spoken have ever been to one of these New Year's celebrations, perhaps because of the bad mental associations which the venue conjures up in their minds. Times Square was for a long time a very run-down, dishevelled and even dangerous place to be, with drunks, criminals and lunatics hanging around, and porn cinemas where top rate theaters used to be. However, a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of the city brought businesses like Disney and a Virgin Megastore into the square, with enticements like tax breaks. Huge advertising hoardings and numerous gigantic news tickers and stock report tickers now dominate the area.
The only things that could have kept me away were meteorites or bad weather (snow no, rain yes). For other people, the threat of terrorism was enough. Perhaps one aspect of these celebrations which will be forgotten after a while was the fear of someone detonating a bomb at one of the high-profile events. A week or two before Christmas, an Algerian and some of his accomplices were arrested entering the United States at different points of the Canadian border. He was a member of a militant group, and military style explosives were found in his car. Seattle, the city nearest to where he was arrested, decided to cancel their Millennium celebrations at the Space Needle. New York continued, but with increased security, like welding shut all of the manhole covers and posting 8000 police around the city, including 7000 in Times Square itself, with many in plain clothes. But I figured that with so many people around, there would be plenty of people to take the shrapnel before it ever got to me!
One precaution I did take was to get to the square fairly early. I decided against taking the train into the city, mostly because I figured it would be chaotic trying to get back out afterwards (though I guess the estimated two million partygoers wouldn't be any more people than the transport system handles any normal rush hour). I drove my car in, and parked in Brooklyn Heights, directly opposite downtown Manhattan, because I had a good parking experience there the last time I drove in! Unfortunately, I'd badly underestimated the distance from there over to Times Square, in upper Manhattan. It took me about two hours to walk over, even without much traffic around, and on the way I passed quite a few parking lots which not only had space to spare, but were cheaper than the one I was in.
By the time I arrived at the South end of Times Square, which is were the ball is, it was about 12:30. There were masses of people moving around, but all of the roads were blocked with police barricades. It turns out that the police allow people to fill an area in, then close it off so that no more people can enter. It's a good idea, but one improvement would be to let people know what's happening. I had to ask policemen several times where to go, and sometimes they weren't even sure. I was starting to think that I might not even be able to get to a place where I could see the ball, but by one o'clock I'd shuffled to a pretty good spot near the TV platform on 7th Ave between 46th and 47th street, just two or three blocks away from Where It's All At.
Times Square on New Year's Eve is definitely not the place to be if you have a psychopathic dislike for crowds. It's also not the place to be if you have a weak bladder or a bad back. I'd already figured out the bladder thing, so I didn't eat or drink that morning, though I did have a bottle of juice for afterwards, and a pocket full of candy to stave off hunger pains. What I didn't count on was that after standing in one spot for fifteen or twenty minutes I started to get a sore back and sore feet. Comfortable shoes are a must!
So what do you do for eleven hours while waiting for a very small looking ball to move downwards by thirty feet? Well, you get to know some of the people around you, while they comment on utterly insignificant things and laugh at feeble jokes. Then there's some of the entertainment which is provided, like three giant TV screens directly below the ball, and a stage which could be seen by hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the world, and very few of those actually present. There were giveaways from local TV stations, like balloons and wigs, and "Times Square Trivia" questions on the big screen with truly trivial questions riveting an audience half-crazed with boredom, myself included.
But enough of this nonsense! You wanted to see Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve of the Year 2000, didn't you?
Oh, and here's one final thought.