what 2 do 4 y2k

I have a year 2000 problem that no army of software engineers can fix, a problem ignored amid predictions of power grids failing, air traffic control screens going haywire, and toasters refusing to toast.

The techies will save us from those calamities. There’s too much money up for grabs. Any community college grad who can even spell “COBOL” is raking in $250 an hour as a Y2K debugger.

Coincidental aside: the cost to fix the millennium bug is about $600 billion. Which, by my calculations, is also the amount of money O(+> will make in royalties from “[Party Like It’s] 1999” next year.

As long as, come the witching hour, I’m not in a 747 on final approach, I’m not worried. No, the far scarier prospect to me is that I choose a lame thing to do on that historic evening. Face it, ATMs unfreeze and elevators revive, but your choice of entertainment that night stays with you forever.

Years hence NYE99 will replace the JFK assassination as the cultural memory touchstone: where were you when . . . the new millennium arrived? And don’t start any of that “the millennium starts in 2001, not 2000” hair-splitting. I have consulted various authorities on this question and here are the results:

  • Believes millennium starts January 1, 2001: U.S. Naval Observatory, Greenwich Observatory, Encyclopedia Britannica, and the World Almanac.
  • Believes millennium starts January 1, 2000: Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, Spuds McKenzie, Corona girls, and Bayer aspirin.

People who think the millennium starts in 2001 instead of 2000 are the same people who say hear a joke and say “that’s funny” instead of laughing.

The big question is will your NYE99 experience withstand comparison to that of friends, neighbors, even future acquaintances? If this sounds superficial, consider the source. Normally, I avoid NYE parties (Halloween, now there’s a holiday!), regarding it as Amateur Night. It’s the night a lot of uptight marrieds emerge from their cocoons, clog the roads, put the police on hyperalert, and generally infect the whole proceedings with a depressing air of forced merriment.

So if a grinchy New Year’s dodger like me is getting spun up about partying on NYE99, trust me, the entire planet will be going mad cow. NYE99 is going to be the biggest drink-o-rama/f***fest in your lifetime.  At least until the day they develop an inexpensive, 100% effective, instant-acting, Absolut Citron shooter-administered HIV vaccine.

In the year 2020 when your children ask you how you spent that fateful night, you want to be able to look them straight in the eye and say, “I marched in a candlelight vigil for world peace,” as you reminisce about doing the breast stroke in a hot tub full of Hooter’s girls.

Onomastic aside: What to call the coming decade? Let’s just agree here and now that the nineties are followed by the naughties.

And be forewarned, fellow reveler. The partying on NYE99 is going to be intensified by some powerful forces. Start with normal fin de siècle apprehension about the future; add possible technological gridlock and attendant societal havoc; flavor with Hollywood planetary disaster movie-fueled mass extinction fears; add a dose of Christian millennial apocalyptic doctrine; stir in growing paranoia and alienation among the cultural mainstream, and guess what? We got ourselves a whole bunch of people who’ll be partying like there’s no tomorrow. Literally.

So, what are we to do?

(1) Do something huge. Max out that Visa card. Think of the possibilities you have compared to your forebears. Revelry options were substantially more limited the last time the odometer clicked to triple zeroes. “New millennium you say? In that case I shall have both mead and wassail tonight!” (With gunpowder still a couple centuries away, rest assured that some yahoo was firing arrows into the sky.)

The key is to think big, but don’t sweat it, because no matter what you opt for, someone’s going to trump you.

“Going on a Caribbean cruise?” they’ll say. “Nice, but my brother is going to a masquerade ball in a Viennese castle.”

“Castle? My buddy is going to dance naked on the Great Pyramid of Giza bathed in a laser light show.”

“Pyramid? Bah. Jim Morrison is picking me up in a UFO and flying me back in time to an Aztec Indian sacrifice where we’re going to dine on rack of unicorn roasted over moon rocks and guzzle Dom Perignon from the Holy Grail itself.”

Face it, you’re not going to win this competition. Just don’t be left at the starting gate. Here are, depending on your budget, some possibilities:

  • Throw a toga party at Stonehenge
  • Have sex with a beautiful stranger at the base of the Eiffel Tower amidst thousands of people
  • Dance around a beach bonfire to the eerie strains of Philip Glass
  • Fly the Concorde across all 24 time zones, experiencing the New Year 24 times
  • Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and cavort with sea lions
  • Do some absinthe shots and float William Hurt-style in a sensory dep tank
  • Throw a lobster and champagne feast for your closest friends
  • Combine the cerebral with the bacchanal: host a salon that turns into an orgy at midnight
  • Party at Caribbean hotspot Foxy’s Tamarind Bar on the island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands
  • Join 2.5 million revelers at the Party2000 site on the California/Arizona border
  • Go aerial: bungee jump, skydive, or hot-air balloon your way into the 21st century
  • Camp under the stars at Yosemite National Park

Appreciative Aside: Imagine working on NYE99. Lots of computer programmers, ER techs, slurpee-jockeys and video clerks will. Count your blessings.

Whatever you do, don’t let some sweet thing talk you into any of that First Night hokum or you’ll find yourself muttering, “Oh darling, it’s so much nicer to be outside on this scrotum-retractingly cold evening, teeth chattering like a teletype, sober as a Mormon, admiring at this ice sculpture of a reindeer, than to be at some silly old Party of the Millennium.”

(2) Plan early. Keep telling yourself, “I’m not lazy, I’m being spontaneous,” and you’ll find yourself spontaneously making last minute reservations for the I-95 Holiday Inn New Years Bash featuring all-you-can-eat popcorn shrimp, Andre Cold Duck champagne, and dancing to the syncopated sounds of Doc Scanlon and His Big Band all for only $19.99! Do some advance planning. And if your plan consists of Doritos, Dick Clark and the tube, well . . . game over, man.

If you want to do something spectacular, you had better reserve fast. Nancy Zerfoss of Destinations 2000 in Braintree, MA reports that NYE99 bookings surged after this New Years as millions of people asked each other “where are you going to be two years from tonight?” By NYE98 the primo sites could easily be full.

(3) Get a little cosmic. You might even, dare I say it, do something spiritual. And no, distilled spirits don’t count. For example, you could:

  • Get engaged, married, or reaffirm your vows
  • Push the learning. Tackle something that interests you, hard. Childhood fascination with dinosaurs? Take up paleontology.
  • Create a time capsule to be opened 100 years or 1,000 years in the future
  • Create an original work of art to unveil on NYE99
  • Gather close friends and compose and share individual “Fifty Things To Do Before I Die” lists
  • Spend NYE99 with your parents. Get to know them as people. Tell stories, laugh, reminisce.
  • Volunteer on a neighborhood renewal project
  • Find a problem that is important to you that no one else seems to be working on and make it a focus of your life
  • Copulate like an endangered species the night of April 8, 1999 (assuming an average human gestation period of 267 days) to try to produce a baby at exactly the stroke of midnight on NYE99. Name him Damien Nostradamus just for kicks.

Exhortative aside: Resist the inevitable commercialism that will accompany this event. Don’t buy “limited edition” millennium postage stamps and Franklin Mint commemorative millennium plates. Those things will be as limited as the viral count on the sheets in a Bangkok brothel. Collect experiences instead. Try something different. Make a new friend. Break a taboo. Conquer a fear. Jettison a prejudice.

For more ideas, lists of millennium-related events, and travel planning check out:

  • Millennium Institute (www.cgv.org/millennium/events/index.html)
  • Party 2000 (www.party2000.com)
  • Destinations 2000 (www.destinations2000.com)
  • Millennium Society (www.millenniumsociety.org)
  • Global Volunteers Millennium Service Project (www.globalvolunteers.org)

Or, if none of these ideas grab you, you could always hope the worst-case Y2K bug scenarios do come true, and connive to be in an elevator at midnight on NYE99 with a beautiful woman, a blanket, and a week’s worth of food and water.


This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in Player magazine.

About Steve Altes

Steve Altes is the author of several humor books, dozens of humorous adventure essays, and the comedic graphic novel Geeks & Greeks, set at MIT and inspired by MIT's culture of hacking and Steve's own experiences with hazing.
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