A little over two months, and we'll have an answer to the burning question: Will 2000 come in like a lamb or like a Y2K lion?
Regardless, many Levey readers are making plans to usher in 2000 with a damn-the-cost blowout of some sort.
I have friends who plan to rent a luxury schooner (at $3,500 a night) and watch the calendar flip while riding the high seas. I have friends who will ride the train to New York for the evening and indulge in a seven-course meal, at $1,500 a head.
Other friends are going to cash in some of their retirement money and rent a penthouse in Atlantic City for the long New Year's weekend. Don't even ask what the Atlantic City bacchanal will cost. You wouldn't believe it if I told you. Hint: The total tab will be into five digits.
Myself, I plan to indulge with a Granny Smith apple and a glass of root beer. I will kiss the wife and kiddies and trundle off to the rack by 10 p.m. When I awaken, it will be 2000 -- and my bank account will be just as naked as it was when the years began with a one.
Levey reader Maryanne Zeitlin is still trying to figure out what she'll be doing over The New Year's Weekend to End All New Year's Weekends. But she isn't wondering about what kind of mood she's in. Maryanne is totally ticked by the rates she has been quoted at the place where she really wants to go -- Key West, Fla.
For weeks, Maryanne and a friend have been calling hotels and motels on that spit of sand. They have met with what Maryanne calls "a wall of audacity." Maryanne has been unable to find a room for less than $250 a night. One place quoted as much for a five-night stay as it would cost for breast augmentation surgery, Maryanne said.
"All I wanted to do was go fishing and catch some rays," Maryanne wrote to me. "It looks like I'm going to be fishing off a pier on the Chesapeake at my boss's cottage.
"Does price gouging apply in this scenario or can people really do the unbelievable and get away with it?"
First, Maryanne, a reminder that New Year's is the height of the season in Key West even when millennia are not in play. A rate of $250 a night is high, but it isn't a world record.
Second, you might have a much better time on that Chesapeake Bay dock. Places like Key West are going to be crawling with humanity on 12/31/99 and 1/1/00. Would you really enjoy a three-hour wait for dinner every night, because restaurants are jammed? A bucket of carryout chicken and a nibble on your lure might be much better for the soul, as well as the pocketbook.
Still, Maryanne's suspicion made this old stick-in-the-mud wonder. So Mr. Mud consulted the travel editor of The Washington Post, Craig Stoltz.
First, Craig referred me to a piece that ran in his section last spring. It said that "the best [Y2K] deals may, in fact, go to those who have procrastinated."
The logic works like this: Many hotels and motels quoted outer-space prices for the Y2K weekend eight months ago. As the actual weekend approaches, they are staring at a lot of nonresponses -- and a lot of last-minute cancellations. Possibly, the late bird can catch a relatively inexpensive worm.
Craig also pointed out an excellent piece that Travel ran April 4. Staff writer John Deiner compiled a list of motels with semi-sane rates that are close to the hottest action but not right in it.
For instance, the Holiday Inn in Parsippany, N.J., is (or at least was) quoting a rate of $84 a night for a double. Parsippany is less than 45 minutes from Times Square by bus -- and the bus stops right next to the hotel.
In general, however, Craig said he has "little sympathy for those who complain about [Y2K] gouging. Demand in the few places people really want to go is very high, and I have nothing against business operators who try to go for the gusto. Most of them have already dropped their prices, and you'll find plenty of decently priced stuff -- cruises, hotel rooms and airline tickets -- behind the high-profile gougers."
Sound like a recommendation to fly to Key West and hope for a cancellation? It does to me. I'm still a Granny Smith and root beer guy. But if Maryanne wants to load up a backpack and hope to get lucky down south, she just may.
At long last, ladies and gentlemen (drum roll) . . . The Hands-Free Driver.
Susan M. Barnes saw him the other day as she drove to work on the Capital Beltway. "A guy [was] holding a cup of coffee in one hand, a cell phone in the other (he was talking on it) and driving with his knees.
"Yes, he had the steering wheel between his knees. This was in the middle lane just before the American Legion Bridge [while] going about 50. I kid you not."
I hope the guilty party is reading this. The way he's going, he might not be reading much of anything a whole lot longer.
To contact Bob Levey:
By mail: Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
By telephone: 202-334-7276.
By fax: 202-334-5150.
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