"At the dawn of 19100, your desk was the place to be"

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From today's Electronic Telegraph:

At the dawn of 19100, your desk was the place to be By Mark Steyn

"I'M gonna wait till the midnight hour," sang Tom Jones in Washington. "That's when my love comes tumblin' down." Across the great Republic, millions waited till the midnight hour, in the hope that the entire national infrastructure would come tumblin' down.

At the stroke of 12, Eastern Standard Time, things looked promising: the web site of America's official timekeeper, the so-called "atomic clock", welcomed us to the year 19100. If the government clock thought it was 19100, it would surely be mere nanoseconds before the power grids were exploding and the nukes flying. The six months' supply of Cheese-In-A-Can and year's supply of ammo would prove to be a sound investment.

But nothing happened - unless you were at the GoGo Mart in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where the gas pumps, bank machine and TriState Megabucks ticket dispenser packed up. Frankly, as societal meltdowns go, it left something to be desired. If the dawn of 19100 was, as its promoters insisted, "the greatest party of all time", the American people chose to play the role of an agoraphobic Cinderella.

"You shall go to the ball," decreed the fairy godmother. To which the humble scullery maid responded: "Are you nuts? That's the last place I want to be when the lights go out." But the Y2K bug's been corrected . . . "Yeah, well, I'm still not coming. What about all these crazy Algerian terrorists swarming down from Canada planning to blow the joint sky high?"

But we've completely secured the area with thousands of cops and sniffer dogs that can detect traces of couscous. "Big deal." In the end, some 80 per cent of Americans stayed at home for Y2K, and many of the remaining 20 per cent were at the office. Indeed, by the big night, the greatest social cachet attached not to an invite for some grand millennial bash but to a demand to stay at your desk.

At many corporations, all "essential" personnel, from chief execs down, were supposed to be at their posts in case some Y2K computer glitch manifested itself. Gradually, it dawned on American socialites that, by definition, pretty much everyone who turned up at the party would be "non-essential" personnel, and who wants to be seen at a grand confab of the non-essential? Around the country, anyone who was anyone wasn't there.

"Every once in a thousand years there's a night like this," sang the Latin heart-throb Jon Secada. The Las Vegas Police Department, the constabulary of a town built on partying, were less impressed: "It's one of the quietest Friday nights in years." In New York, the Hilton and other midtown hotels were slashing rates to below $140 (#88). Event after event was cancelled, and those that went ahead were dramatically downsized.

The more the network anchors insisted we were on the brink of an exciting new era, the more it seemed like some tired oldies station. Midnight in New York: Billy Joel. Midnight in Denver: Neil Diamond. Midnight in Vegas: Paul Anka. You couldn't help thinking that suddenly, almost overnight, all these old rock stars seemed so last millennium.

In Washington, Tom Jones, Quincy Jones and who knows how many other celebrity Joneses were joined by the President. Bill Clinton manages to infect even the grandest occasion with his cheesiness, especially when he is wearing his wing-collar and tux, which always gives him the air of a mantre d' at a 19th-century New Orleans bordello.

Of those who did turn up, one could only marvel at how far some people are prepared to go for a bad time. A big-city New Year in Britain means consuming 38 pints, lurching through suburban avenues baying obscenities before passing out face down in your vomit. Such harmless pleasures are denied the urban American: in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and elsewhere, New Year means being herded like sheep through a sealed-off area by heavy-handed cops, and if you can find anything stronger than Coke to drink, good luck to you.

The Algerian terrorist threat was merely the icing on the cake of the country's joyless, antiseptic New Years. The fastest-growing phenomenon of the past decade has been municipally sponsored alcohol-free "First Nights": as Howard Dean, Governor of Vermont, was at pains to caution, "Party responsibly".

In a night of no-shows - from the Y2K bug to bombers to big-time celebs - the widespread absence of the American people may be the most telling: with no smoking and no drinking, much of the citizenry seems to have concluded that in the next millennium the chances of anything approaching what the Scots or Irish would consider a good time are pretty remote.

Of course, in my corner of rural New Hampshire the lack of excitement may just be because everyone gets up at four in the morning. Most of my neighbours managed to stay up till 10.30 or so, which is nearer midnight than usual. My small town marked the turn of the calendar the way it did a century ago, with fireworks at the town beach, lighting up a crisp north country sky and echoing under the ice on our frozen lake. The younger children skated, the older ones played ice hockey.

For all the talk on television about the bewildering changes of the 20th century, things looked almost exactly as they would have done 100 years ago. No one said "Happy Millennium!" but I felt my neighbour Donna's farewell to me was freighted with the immense burden of 1,000 years of history:

"Have a great weekend," she said. "See you Monday."

Happy 19100!

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), January 02, 2000


"Bill Clinton manages to infect even the grandest occasion with his cheesiness, especially when he is wearing his wing-collar and tux, which always gives him the air of a mantre d' at a 19th-century New Orleans bordello."


Dennis Miller couldn't have said it better!

John Ludi

-- Ludi (ludi@rollin.com), January 02, 2000.

Wonderful take. I scrolled back to the top to see who wrote it. Mark Steyn. Shoulda recognized the style--I've always been a big fan.

-- JIT (justintime@rightnow.net), January 02, 2000.

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