TIME Magazine: "Hey, You In That Bunker, You Can Come Out Now!"

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Seems to me that the only people in 'bunkers' were Clinton, the Mayor of New York City, Prime Minister Chretien, the Prime Minister of Japan, et al...:)]


JANUARY 1, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 1

Hey, You In That Bunker, You Can Come Out Now!

After a year of computer-bug fears and a month of terrorism warnings, everything was Y2OK. So the world partied as if it all shared one calendar


It was the perfect fable for our time: HAL recast as a billion tiny bugs, his omnipotent malevolence replaced by our own innocent oversight. Technology had become so all-encompassing and incomprehensible, the fable began, that we had unwittingly lost control of it. So the smallest thing, our human habit of hiply referring to years by the last two digits, was going to topple this electronic pack of cards, sending planes crashing to the ground, nukes leaping from their silos, electricity to a standstill and all of humanity back to a time much earlier than the 1900 our computers would believe it was. It was a cleansing fantasy, a dream of ridding ourselves of the increasingly unavoidable yoke of overcivilization and going back to a society simple enough for us to understand.

So at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 31, in Lisbon, Ohio, fable believers Bruce and Diane Eckhart awoke and immersed themselves in technology for what they believed was the last time, turning on their two televisions, dialing up the Internet and clicking on their shortwave radio to monitor the first Y2K rollover in Kiribati. Since 1997 the Eckharts have been stockpiling food, conducting surprise drills, practicing firearm skills, converting savings into gold coins and studying rudimentary dentistry and field medicine. "So far, it's just a minor power outage in New Zealand," Diane reports, before uttering a sentence few have ever delivered. "But we've heard nothing about Guam; it's kind of disturbing."

As the day wears on, and news reports show that not even China is having problems, their daughter Danielle, 12, is the first to lose interest. "Whatever happens, happens," she says, after singing along to a Sheryl Crow tape. "We won't have to go grocery shopping for a while." And while Bruce, 45, is still talking about being wary of strangers from neighboring Youngstown coming to loot his stash, his wife Diane, 42, is already contemplating their massive store of canned food. "I'm going to save on groceries," she says, determined to eat their 12 cans of Spam, disaster or not. "I can't decide if I'm going to buy a Jacuzzi or a new computer with the money."

In Tennessee, Karen Anderson woke up on New Year's Day less ready than the Eckharts to dig in to her canned food. The self-designated Martha Stewart of Y2K (her book Y2K for Women: How to Protect Your Home and Family in the Coming Crisis as well as her website, http://y2kwomen.com, give tips on reusable tampons) now fears a leap year computer bug on Feb. 29, among other potential disasters. "We don't know what's going to happen with the economy. If the markets crash or my husband loses his job, we're ready," she says. In Ontario, Bruce Beach, who began constructing a bunker of 42 buried school buses 18 years ago, watched astounded as city after city passed into modernity with nary a scratch. And MTV Online, as if to mock it all, was showing Internet film of the six kids it set up in a campy Y2K bunker under a building in Manhattan.

Almost as interested in world rollovers as the bunkered down were the U.S. and Russian military officers at Peterson Air Force Base, the now permanent Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability. Officers from both sides of the cold peace, who were there to make sure no nukes accidentally went off, labored to keep busy, channel surfing among cnn and other news shows and showing one another Russian Internet fare. The only old-school touch was the hot-line phones, black for Moscow, white for the U.S. When the clocks changed in Moscow and no bugs were reported, the Russian team applauded and U.S. Major General Thomas Goslin Jr. congratulated Russian group leader Colonel Sergey Kaplin. He may have deserved even more congratulations. Russia spent $4 million on Y2K military preparations while the U.S. spent nearly $4 billion. In fact, Americans spent an estimated $100 billion to be ready on all fronts, from telecommunications to sewage treatment. It is still unclear whether that was money partly wasted or money that saved us from a meltdown, but any funds that happened to be spent on ensuring the safe, swift delivery of newsmagazines is money well spent.

The FAA confidently sent its chief, Jane Garvey, flying from Washington to Dallas during the key hour of midnight Greenwich Mean Time. The only surprising thing about the flight was that the FAA chief had to fly coach. Joining her were 36 passengers, including one brave TIME reporter, Washington Senator Slade Gorton and Janet Rhodes, 63, whose life's goal was to fly during midnight of the millennium. Rhodes booked the trip months in advance, had her flight canceled twice owing to lack of passengers and eventually got a ticket on the flight Garvey was taking, figuring American couldn't cancel that one. "I'm as happy as a lark," she chirped, after drinking a glass of complimentary champagne. "This is the most fun I've ever had on a flight. I just love being part of history."

Fear itself was virtually nonexistent on Friday, with almost no one making a last-minute ATM run, leaving the $50 billion of extra cash the Federal Reserve had printed for the occasion to be turned into mulch later this month.

So as Apocalypse Not struck around the globe--and all terrorists were either caught, in bed watching television, or releasing a planeload of hostages--people everywhere celebrated. Many cultures celebrated despite the fact that most follow completely different calendars, and despite the fact that far too many people were pointing out that the millennium doesn't really start until next year and that our system is all messed up anyway, because Jesus was born 2,004 years ago. They celebrated because the most famous odometer mankind has ever created was displaying three zeroes in a row. It's exciting enough when it happens to your own car; when it happens to the world, it makes you downright giddy.

After a dispute sillier than states competing to hold the first election primary, the Republic of Kiribati beat out Tonga and New Zealand's Chatham Islands for the media's anointment of birthplace of the third millennium. To jump in front of the Chatham Islands by 15 minutes, Tonga sneakily used daylight savings time, while Kiribati had the international dateline moved in 1995 so its snazzily named if unfortunately uninhabited Millennium Island would be first. Kiribati's Micronesian dancers, shipped in from Tawara, whupped it up before the world's cameras for six minutes and then prepped for the next TV spot. Not to be outdone, the Chatham Islands--the first actually inhabited land to see the new millennium--jumped on boasting rights for the first haircut, first horse race, first beer brewing and first fishing competition. The 21st century looks to be even more competitive than the last.

And the day of odd weddings began early with a dispute over the first wedding. Was it the marriage of Chatham hardware-store managers Monique Croon, 33, and Dean Braid, 27, whose televised wedding was accompanied by fireworks? Or was it that of Cheryl Berthelsen and Matthew Beach, both 28 and from Virginia, who won a $15,000 auction at http://weddingchannel.com to be married in the South Pacific on private Turtle Island, which employs daylight saving time? Later, 700 couples were married in a ceremony in Philadelphia; 2,000 in a Bangkok ceremony; 110 along the Delaware River; 20 couples in the Maryland courthouse where Monica Lewinsky testified against Linda Tripp two weeks ago; and 20 in Las Vegas' Chapel Viva Las Vegas, which featured hula girls, showgirls, a Merlin and, of course, an Elvis impersonator. For the rest of their lives, all these people will have to answer questions about their wedding album with, "No, I don't know who that person is either."

Along with people who like to wed in groups, the Millennial New Year was an excuse for attention-needy adrenaline seekers. A large group went to the South Pole to drink champagne as scientists performed their annual repositioning of the U.S. flag (glacial movement shifts the flag). After midnight, four Emory students planned to finish their ascent up Argentina's 22,834-ft. high Mount Aconcagua amid 150 m.p.h. winds and subzero temperatures. At dawn on the ever popular Chatham Islands, six people parachuted to see the first sunrise from above the clouds. At Jerusalem's Golden Gate, which some predict will be the site of Jesus' second coming, police arrested entertainer Dudu Topaz, who dressed up as Jesus as a stunt for his TV show. Near Montpellier, France, cave explorer Michel Siffre, who has been underground for a month and no longer has any sense of time, thought Friday was Dec. 27. And in Chicago, The Jerry Springer Show offered "Y2Lovers," a daring episode in which people were confronted by both of their lovers.

Lots of babies were born to parents who were just lucky or had planned really carefully last April. A Silicon Valley hospital gave its first baby a share of Yahoo! stock and five shares of Silicon Graphics. Twins were born on either side of midnight in Berlin, Virginia, Indianapolis, Oklahoma and Seattle. Regardless of what any of them accomplish in life, this is how they will always be described.

But it was the parties that got most of the attention, since the 72% of Americans who stayed home this year needed something to watch. Australia set off some fireworks, as did Japan, where Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi tried to backpedal from weeks of warnings to stockpile food and water. He had even declared a three-day emergency holiday. A country that has been burned as badly by its faith in technology over the past decade as Japan deserves to be careful. But for China, which really doesn't have many computers and uses a different calendar anyway, to declare a holiday in fear of the Y2K bug seemed just about as silly as the manly N.F.L.'s forcing teams to fly to opposing fields a day early on Friday to avoid being in the air in the new year.

London, while offering a fireworks display of disturbing duration, had some mishaps. The much hyped fire on the Thames, which was to travel at the speed of the earth's rotation, didn't quite happen, and the giant Ferris wheel being built for the occasion was not ready. This was not because of a Y2K bug, but because they are British. The Millennium Dome, however, was ready and so big that if held upside down under Niagara Falls, it would take 12 minutes to fill. This is entirely unhelpful as to figuring out how big it is.

Paris' 11 Ferris wheels were working fine, and though its fireworks display was shorter than London's, it clearly was more impressive. This comparison is far less uninteresting than the 10 minutes of debate on ABC between Barbara Walters and Cokie Roberts over which is a better city, Paris or Rome. ABC had 25 hours of time to fill. Walters changed outfits twice, enough time for anchor Peter Jennings to report an e-mail from a viewer saying she liked Walters' first outfit better. ABC had 25 hours of time to fill.

Meanwhile, in that ironic way communist governments have of ignoring the people's will, Cuba declared that there should be no celebrations since the millennium really starts next year. Instead, they celebrated the 41st anniversary of their revolution and permitted only foreigners to attend a show at the Tropicana.

In America we couldn't quite get the mood right, with the mayor of Chicago inviting two people from every country in the world to dinner and presiding over the city's official 2,000-minute-long party. It included a new dance called the Milly, which, fortunately, few TV news organizations covered. In Washington the President had a large group of people over for dinner, including Don McLean of American Pie fame. They all then watched a movie made by Steven Spielberg that ended with an old man's hand touching a baby's hand against a backdrop of an American flag. In Los Angeles one of the Dust Brothers, a record-producing duo, was married at his house; Beck served as the wedding band. In New York, Internet millionaire Josh Harris spent $700,000 on a month-long party that culminated at midnight with his trying to coordinate six fornicating couples into simultaneous orgasm at midnight. Everyone has a dream.

Regardless of what you may think of New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, you must admit he was the right man at the right time. Two million people stood perfectly in place as the ball dropped, five helicopters circled above, and 100 confetti-dispersal engineers, trained all week by Treb Heining, the man who invented animal balloons, dropped 45-lb. boxes worth of paper on the crowd.

Even though the Times Square celebration went better than expected, the parties worked best in the locations that were able to provide a backdrop of history: Greece's Acropolis, Egypt's Pyramids, the Vatican, London, Versailles and Moscow's Red Square, which partied just hours after Boris Yeltsin handed a briefcase of nuclear codes to Vladimir Putin. Instead of the futurism that all these zeroes seem to command, the event was best celebrated by looking back, partially because futurism always comes off as incredibly stupid. So Seattle, Wash., a symbol for technology as well as troublemakers in sea-turtle costumes, canceled its main party, and no one really missed it.

But more than wondering what the event meant, the more pressing question is, How do you pop up out of your bunker? Should you wear an embarrassed grimace, smiling through the 300-lb.-millet-bag jokes lobbed by your Y2complacent neighbors? Should you be angry, suing all the Engineer Littles who tricked you into believing the sky was falling? Or should you climb back inside, waiting for the systems shutdowns in February because of the leap-year bug?

No, you should emerge from your Y2K bunker as your father did from his bomb shelter after the Cuban missile crisis and as your forefather did from his cave when the first eclipse passed. Like them, you should celebrate. You should celebrate longer and harder than your neighbors who danced and drank while you tested your flashlights. You should celebrate that it's no miracle that the world didn't end because of a few zeroes. That it's no miracle we can still control the myriad intricate systems we have built. That it's no miracle that our global interconnectedness makes us stronger, not weaker. After all, is it a miracle that the sun, which we understand far less than our computer systems, rose yet again?

Yes, it is.



-- John Whitley (jwhitley@inforamp.net), January 09, 2000


"300-lb.-millet-bag"? Oops. I knew there was something I forget to stockpile.

-- dinosaur (dinosaur@williams-net.com), January 09, 2000.

May TIME magazine and its parent company suffer lingering, aggravating bugs and glitches which cause them to truly appreciate the potential of what we faced. And may their junk-mail advertising system glitch and forever send all the "Don't you want to subscribe?" mail to their chairman rather than inflicting it upon us.


-- Wildweasel (vtmldm@epix.net), January 09, 2000.

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