Times Square, 2000
For the millenium celebration we made a pilgrimage to New York. Lots of stuff happened, and we got to learn how to drive very aggressively, but the best part was definitely the New Year's celebration itself. No pictures, unfortunately, unless Tanya has blackmail pictures.
People had already filled up the first two blocks before 11:00 AM, so us latecomers (6:00!) had to watch from 5 blocks back, where we couldn't hear Dick Clark and the other entertainer people. New York had obviously thought about the celebrations too much and too little. They put people into penned areas one block long, and would only allow people out, but not back in. This would have been fine except they put all the port-a-potties up at front right next to the ball! I guess it helped that they didn't allow anyone to have alcohol there. Though there were a lot of people afterwards who popped champaigne. Following this, one policeman offered his take on the rules of New York: "in New York, you don't ask, you just do. Cause then it's done, and there's no taking it back."
The Sweets Factory store next to our pen tossed out candy, but alas, none of us caught any and those who did didn't have enough to share with the whole crowd :)
The People At Times Square
We tried playing cards to pass time, and attracted some attention doing it (people took pictures taken of us). But playing on the street in the middle of a crowd makes it hard to concentrate. So instead I went around and asked people about their names and countries and what they thought would happen. It was obviously a biased sample, because they probably wouldn't be there if they thought something would happen that night :) There was an immense diversity of people there, and *all* of the ones I talked to were interesting. I am glad that I did this. Meeting these people was much more interesting to me than the actual countdown and shouting. Here are a few of their stories:
- Fernando, from Venezuela, who has been to New Year's celebrations all over the world and who I suspect has a good deal of cash somewhere :)
He told me about the celebration in Rome: "The central square is empty there most of the day, not like New York. Then, about 11:30, there is a massive exodus to the square, the whole town comes walking through the streets to the square. It's amazing. And it's still not hard to get a place near the front because it's such a big, pen square. Everyone brings a champaigne bottle, has a champaigne bottle. At midnight everyone throws their champaigne bottle into the square! They really do this, the people in front have have to duck if they don't want to get hit!"
And the one in Jerusalem: "People don't go to any central place, nothing like that. Doing that would be too dangerous there. Everyone stays at home, and at midnight they all get in front of their houses and set of firecrackers! Not the kind that makes light, but just sound. It is crazy, it sounds like a war zone! Five minutes after midnight you can't hear yourself talking!"
- Ariel, a Jewish New Yorker, whose family was also all there, including the child, whose name I can't remember. She gave Tanya directions to the Soup Nazi's kitchen; according to the cabbie we had the next day, that kitchen literally has a line over a hundred people long at lunch. I guess it's just *that good*.
- Neme, Efrat, and ... darn, can't remember the other one's name. Three college-age girls from Israel. Well, actually a town near Israel. Their rationale for not going to the celebration in Jerusalem: "Jerusalem is every day for us."
- Pascal and George from Uganda. George, huh ... They actually immigrated from Uganda 5-10 years ago and live in Brooklyn. When I commented on how few New Yorkers there, they commented on how most New Yorkers take the events and stuff for granted and never go. It's pretty much true; my family did a few things in Chicago, but not nearly as much as we could have.
- A couple of high-schoolers from Wisconson who drove up themselves. Didn't get their names.
- Uli and Mirna from Germany. They are married, living in Germany, where Uli is from. Mirna was from South America and they met at a university up there. I got to practice my Spanish on her a little bit, and I think she was delighted about that. She said that she liked New York better than Rome because it's much bigger in scope, but Rome is much classier and you can feel the history oozing out of its pores.
Eli, about our age, who had long brown hair and wore jeans and an old Alamo-style leather jacket with the little square fringes lining the chest. He made a pilgrimage there with very little money from a college in San Antonio, Texas. He's a graphic artist there. We introduced him to a lawyer who was apparently also from there (part of Ariel's family).
We met him because he left his backpack with us, twice. The first time he said if we thought there was a bomb or anything we could search it, but we figured there wasn't one. The second time he went off to the bathroom and was gone for 20 minutes. At 15 minutes we were starting to wonder if it actually did have a bomb and he wasn't able to set it off before, but then he got back and we didn't have to search it.
Julie, an intelligent, pretty girl from Taiwan, who made me sad that I would only be in New York 2 more days. We had some good conversation.
- Norb, who looked to be somewhere between 18 and 24, head bobbing to headphones, drawing squiggly lines on the road with multicolored chalk. Julie and I tried to talk to him, but the most comprehensible sentence I got out of him was that he didn't want me to use the chalk. A typical conversation:
Norb: "You know what's really cool? There's no hell, and we live forever."
John: silence for a while
Norb: continues drawing with chalk
John: "Um ... so could you explain what you mean by that?"
Norb: "I mean it's kind of cool, that we live forever and there is no hell."
Julie figured he was drunk or on drugs. I'm pretty sure he was completely lucid and was using this as some sort of attention-getter and defense mechanism all at the same time.
Yes, those were their actual names. I'm kinda proud I remembered so many of them! I think I may have learned a new capacity in myself.
One thing I am very sorry I missed, though, was the End of the World preachers. Some of the people I talked to (actually Pascal and George) said they were in Times Square every evening before the Fateful Night. That would have been fascinating. But I suspect they will still be out in force next year, so sometime in the last two months I am going to go on a road trip/pilgrimage searching for them. What stories they must have! I wish I had thought about that last year.
I am also planning on Rome in 2003 (or when I have enough money to do it :)
As for Manhattan, it's amazing! There is nothing natural on that island: *nothing*. If it looks natural, it was imported from somewhere else. It's like something out of a science fiction novel. We all got to drive some there, which was definitely an experience. I still have yet to establish *why* people honk their horns all the time. There doesn't appear to be anything they are honking *at*.
Everything was wonderful and fairly harmonious except Tanya and I had a little fight (cabin fever). She also sprained her ankle on the last night we were there. This was in Central Park, at night. There were some shady characters walking by; it was lucky there were four of us together.
Oh, and finally, in the airport on the way back I got a hat! For some reason I am insanely happy about that :)