"And then," he continued enthusiastically, "for New Year's Eve we're renting out the entire convention center in Santa Ana just for our members. Won't that be great? You wouldn't want to miss out on a party like that!" The tone of his voice was Grade-A Choice sales pitch - not only would I be a fool to pass up a chance to get in on the ground floor of the pyramid scheme he was pitching but I would also be a complete social outcast if I didn't want to spend Y2K in Orange County with 10,000 other converts, believers and snake-oil suckers.
That conversation was somewhere around 1997 and suffice to say that I did not sign up for a motivational cable network that required members only access and bought its air time from other providers during the late evening and wee hours of the night. Whether or not their plans for the Orange County Convention Center ever panned out either, don't know, don't care. I knew one thing about Y2K and that was where I wanted to be to ring in the new Millenium.
Flights and hotel secure, I arrived in London, England on the morning of New Year's Eve, 1999. The plan was to arrive in time to turn around and high tail it back to America if New Zealand did in fact black out, signaling a worldwide technology meltdown. If that happened I hoped that the systems on my side of the planet would work long enough to get me home. With my plan in place I made it to my hotel near Earl's Court, caught a quick nap and woke up to television images of Auckland, New Zealand ablaze with lights and revelers in the streets celebrating the first developed nation to ring in the new year. Good!
Greenwich Mean Time was to me the official start of the new year and that's where I wanted to be, not ahead of it or behind it, first or last; "GMT," or as close to it as possible. Some in London chose to be right where the gold line is embedded in to the pavement, symbolizing positive and negative time. I was content with being right under Big Ben at Parliament House along the Thames River at Westminster Bridge. I wasn't alone...not by a long shot.
London was cold and overcast - big news flash there, it was the middle of Winter! There was some rain but not enough to keep anyone indoors or deter us from this cosmic moment in time. Touring the city wasn't part of the agenda for me, either, as I'd been to London many times before including one other New Year's occasion at Trafalgar Square. Since I planned to fly home the very next day my one full day in London was all about resting from the flight over and saving my energy for Midnight.
I figured if I got to Parliament by 10PM I'd have a good choice of viewing spots while not having to stand around on my own for too long. Uh...not. Police estimates were in the range of four million gathered along the Thames from the brand new Millennium Dome in the Docklands to Vauxhall Bridge home to MI6 and the farthest point west of Parliament where it can still be seen from the river. I only made it as far as the intersection of St. Margaret and Bridge Streets, well back from the river but still largely underneath the famous bell tower. Westminster Bridge had been closed to additional visitors for safety reasons so I took up a spot on the island supporting the traffic light and waited for unforgettable, once in a lifetime magic to happen.
It did. Happy New Year!