Sure, watching that glittering ball drop in Times Square is a timeless New Year's Eve tradition. But for those of us -- come on, admit it -- for whom the big ball has lost its luster, there are options. Across America, cities celebrate New Year's with their own colorful takes on the shiny-ball tradition; Atlanta, for instance, drops a big peach. But you probably already knew that. Here are some other lesser-known options we dug up. -- Jennifer Huget
A) A possum: Brasstown, N.C.
(Ohio's Walleye Drop The Port Clinton Herald)
B) Two pears: Fredericksburg, Va.
C) walleye: Port Clinton, Ohio
D) A conch shell, A pirate wench and a red high-heel shoe: Key West, Fla.
A) Brasstown is the self-proclaimed Possum Capital of the World. Native Clay Logan cooked up the possum-drop idea, he says, to spice up his store's annual covered-dish dinner and hoedown. A live possum (or, when PETA complains, a roadkill victim) is carefully lowered (don't say "drop") come midnight.
B) Bradford pear trees are a "signature" part of the town's historic district, says Karen Hedelt of the city's tourism office. This year two pears -- both made of chicken wire and papier mache, illuminated from within -- will drop: the big one at midnight, a smaller version at 9 p.m. for bed-ready kids to watch.
C) The walleye may be the ugliest, meanest fish going, but folks in Port Clinton are proud that more of this sport fish are caught from the city's 16,000 Lake Erie docks than anywhere else in the United States. So it naturally follows that they'd hoist a 20-foot, 600-pound fiberglass replica on a crane and lower it to herald the new year.
D) The conch is the unofficial symbol of the Florida Keys; a giant one descends over Sloppy Joe's Bar. The wench -- and, yes, it's a live woman, lowered from the seaport's Schooner America mast -- nods to the town's seafaring heritage. As for the six-foot shoe (inside which a drag queen descends from a balcony at the Bourbon Street Pub) . . . well, the drag community gets a big kick out of stuff like that.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
A) Logan hosts his New Year's party from 10 p.m. to midnight, starting with the Miss Possum contest (contestants are guys in drag), followed by a blessing, an "old-timey" gospel sing-along ("You don't need to know the words," says Logan), a patriotic tribute, and the possum lowering. Fireworks, followed by more singing, cap the evening. No alcohol; coffee and hot chocolate are on the house.
B) Museums, churches and other venues offer entertainment -- music, comedians, performances for kids, etc. -- from 6 p.m. to midnight as part of family-oriented First Night. Everyone's encouraged to bring a noisemaker to join in the parade (led by a Samba band) starting at 8:30. Sorry, no fireworks this year. As many as 4,000 people are expected to attend. Street vendors sell snacks; no alcohol allowed. Don't expect much pear-y cuisine: the Bradford pear, though pretty, is inedible, Hedelt says.
C) This year marks the 10th annual descent of Wylie the Walleye. Thousands are expected to watch, despite frigid temperatures. Bars and restaurants are open, many serving walleye-based specialties, including wine, tacos, popcorn, cinnamon chips (like potato chips, only sweet and spicy). Food's also available from vendors and in a big tent, where a stage show features an Elvis performer and a talent competition. When Wylie's done dropping, fireworks begin.
D) While the official word is that public alcohol consumption is prohibited, all the drop sites are "convenient to restaurants and bars," says Key West tourism spokeswoman Carol Shaughnessy, and the streets overflow with revelers enjoying the 70-degree (at midnight!) weather. At the seaport, live music, cannon blasts, and the release of 25 white doves round out festivities; entertainment at Sloppy Joe's includes "antics" by a roof-top host.
A) Brasstown is about 600 miles from D.C., and Clay's Corner is at 11005 Old Hwy. 64 W. Directions/info: 828-837-3797, www.clayscorner.com. Can't make it? Buy the video for $19.95.
B) Fredericksburg is 50 miles south of D.C. Directions/info: 800-678-4748, www.firstnightfredericksburg.com. The pear drops are free, but you can only access the other activities by buying a First Night button ($6).
C) Port Clinton is between Sandusky and Toledo; the nearest major airport (Toledo Express) is about 60 miles away. Go to www.walleyemadness .com for a second-by-second countdown to Wylie's brush with gravity.
D) Drop info: conch (305-296-2388, Ext. 21, www.sloppyjoes.com); shoe (305-294-4737); and wench (305-292-9520, http://schoonerwharf.com /countdown.htm). General Key West info: 800-527-8539, www.fla-keys .com.