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The girl with the electric purple wig was staring at my feet and so was her sharply dressed boyfriend.
“Nice shoes,” she purred. “Where did you buy them?”
I’ve never had anyone compliment my fashion style before – except whenever I wore a kilt in England – and the fact that this was in the heart of Sex and the City land made it all the more appreciated. To be complimented on my shoes in Manhattan felt like winning some sort of award.
Apart from the shoes (from Schuh), the rest of me was dressed sensibly for the biting cold of a New York December/January day and night. It was 2pm and we’d already celebrated New Year in Christmas Island, New Zealand, Australia and a few places I’d never heard off.
We’d briefly escaped the cordoned area around Times Square to grab a burger and a coffee – no alcohol – in a typical New York diner. The NYPD officer who let us out warned that we’d better not take too long or we wouldn’t get back into the central shrine where a record amount of people were due to gather to sing goodbye to a millennium and to nervously welcome in a new era.
Nobody knew if planes were going to drop from the sky or if there was going to be the mother of all terrorist attacks – we’d had to give details of emergency contacts immediately prior to boarding the plane to The Big Apple and there were reports that New York’s manhole covers had been sealed to prevent an attack from below.
I had a plan. I reckoned the spot where Mayor Rudi Giuliani was positioned was likely to be the most secure, so we took up a strategic position at midday on a crisp and sunny 31 December to celebrate the dawning of everyone’s new millennium.
For fifteen hours we cheered and whooped (when in Rome, or in this case NYC, and all that) as Asian dragons, elephants, 20 foot peacocks, ghostly horses passed through Times Square bestowing pappy gifts beneath a multicoloured ticker tape monsoon. We filled our complimentary bag with cheap and tacky multi-cultural millennium mementos from sparkly wigs and snowflakes to cheerleaders’ pom poms and a lotus flower that still blooms in a Greek blue vase in our house. When midnight struck at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich a huge grotesque, scary looking baby, not unlike the one in Trainspotting, took over from Old Father Time.
In truth, being in Times Square was overwhelming; it was on a scale that was simply too big to absorb. It’s impossible to compute a party that has three million guests. Subsequently there was a ‘pinch me it’s not real’ quality as New Year’s Eve drifted by in a fast-flowing river of fanfares. There’s also something about celebrating everyone else’s New Year that makes the occasion a little bit less spontaneous when it finally gets to your turn. No planes had fallen from the sky on the other side of the world, so we decided the chances were that none would land on our head in the centre of New York (oh for the innocence of those thoughts).
New Year in New York was big, brash, loud, lively, theatrical and, shock horror, alcohol free. The last part came as somewhat of a surprise. Maybe we weren’t clued in but there was nowhere to buy booze; not inside the cordon anyway. After a certain time, step outside of the inner circle and that was the end of that and we’d arrived unprepared with no brown paper bag hiding illicit liquids.
As a result, we celebrated the people of the world’s entry into the 21st century with dry and sober cheers. The only intoxication was provided by the heady atmosphere as the crowd swelled and surged and the clock moved closer to a New York midnight.
By the time the iconic Times Square New Year ball dropped it felt more like a relief than a celebration; a sense of crossing the line exhausted after a punishing marathon. There was a feeling of achievement, of having witnessed something momentous rather than a feeling of exhilaration. Maybe there was also a sense of relief that the new millennium had arrived without an apocalypse attached.
We trudged up 7th Avenue back to our hotel where there was a party in full swing in the foyer and embraced a couple of comfortable chairs like they were long lost friends.
Our bed called our names temptingly. But it was the end of a millennium and we hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol. New Year in Times Square might have been an unforgettable experience but there’s no way you can celebrate New Year by allowing the old year, especially that particular one, to depart without a toast.
We caught the attention of a passing waiter and ordered a bottle of Champagne. As he turned to go we stopped him and told him to make it two bottles.
What the hell, we were in the city that never sleeps and there were places around the world where the old year hadn’t yet come to an end.
There was still plenty of time to party like it was 1999.