Never mind that most of us, as ticket sales and recent surveys attest, will spend New Year's Eve hunkered down in front of the tube, armed with a lifetime supply of bottled water, batteries and Spam--just in case--hoping against hope that the Four Horsemen or some Y2K equivalent from Hell won't be showing up on the doorstep.
For the folks who run things in the burgs and boroughs around the globe, ringing in this particular New Year is all about manufacturing a Moment: the bigger and brassier, the better. So from Topeka to Tokyo, cities are planning over-the-top festivities designed to rival New York City's time-honored dropping of the ball in Times Square. Grandiosity is the key word here. And if that means indulging in a little civic one-upmanship, so be it.
Which is why the city of Chicago went so far as to commission a millennium dance, called--surprise--the Milly. Of course, you can't get down and do the millennium boogie without a millennium song. So they commissioned one of those, too, a bluesy, jazzy, trip-hop number in which Chicagoans are exhorted to "Do the Milly!":
Do the Milly, Do the Milly
Come on, do the Milly
Come on, hey, hey Chicago
Come on now, it's easy
Move it back now, it's the
Jordan attack . . . [here you mime shooting a basket]
Boogie to the beat with that
Sosa style [here you mime swinging a bat]
Of course, while you're flailing around trying to make like Michael Jordan and the Hancock tower, you can work up quite a sweat. There's a millennium solution for that, too. Those seeking to slake their thirst can dash on down to the local 7-Eleven where one can acquire--what else?--the Milly Slurpee.
And if you need a little practice before the big night, as you're slurping your Slurpee, "Milly ambassadors" will conveniently be on hand at 7-Eleven stores to teach you how to do the Milly. (There's even a Milly Mascot, but that's another story.)
Says Chicago's cultural commissioner, Lois Weisberg: "We wanted to come up with something that would bring everyone in the city together. Sort of like 'Hands Across America.' I just thought about feet."
Of course, Chicago isn't the only city that's taking this millennium thing a little too seriously. For years, South Pacific islanders have been arguing over just which island will celebrate the first midnight. The handful of residents inhabiting the Kiribati Islands, a string of islets just east of New Zealand, wanted everyone to know that when it came to ringing in the New Year, they'd be the first on our little planet to do so. So they incorporated several new islands, including Caroline Island, which they renamed Millennium Island.
But there was just one problem.
"Caroline Island wasn't populated," said Gary Smith, one of the executive producers overseeing ABC's massive round-the-clock coverage, including coverage from Millennium Island.
No problem, the Kiribatis said. We'll put some people on our island.
So, at 5 a.m. Eastern time on New Year's Eve, if you happen to awaken clutching the remote control, you can turn on the TV and watch 30 or so Kiribatis ring in the New Year.
Every city, it seems, is feeling pressure to pull out all the stops for the biggest New Year's celebration in this lifetime. In Israel, there was talk of coordinating things so that a Palestinian woman and an Israeli woman would give birth in the same hospital at the same moment--presumably by C-section.
Other cities aren't going so far as to try to mess with Mother Nature. Here in Washington, the Smithsonian Institution and the White House Council are putting on a three-day festival of family-oriented activities. And of course, there's the much-ballyhooed White House New Year's Eve celebration, where Bill and Hillary will be getting jiggy with emcee Will Smith in a Quincy Jones/George Stevens Jr.-produced extravaganza.
Getting Smith to commit to the host gig took a little arm-twisting from some of the higher-ups, but now he's slated to perform along with Trisha Yearwood, Kathleen Battle, BeBe Winans, the cast of "Stomp!" and Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell while Steven Spielberg unveils his 18-minute mini millennium movie.
In London, home of the Millennium Dome, they'll be literally setting the Thames River on fire. And in Paris, 14 giant Ferris wheels designed by artists will stretch along the Champs-Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. On the other side of the globe, Nelson Mandela will be celebrating at a major party at Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 27 years.
In Los Angeles, they'll be beating us over the head with the 2K thing: 2,000 gospel singers, 2,000 folklorico dancers, 2,000 marching band members, 2,000 line dancers. And at midnight, Mayor Richard Riordan will flip the switch of the Hollywood sign, lighting it up with a throbbing white strobe while banner-bearing sky divers descend from the heavens.
If it all sounds a bit much, well, that's exactly the point.
"We'll be looking over our shoulder," Riordan confessed. "We started out thinking we're not going to compete, but as things grew, we found we probably were competing."
So what does he see as his biggest competition?
"New Zealand or Indonesia."
What about that city on the other coast?
"Any city that drops the ball any day of the year isn't going to be much competition," Riordan said.
Tell that to Rudy.
(Actually, we tried to, but New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani could not be reached for comment.)
New York, for its part, will be dropping the ball in Times Square, just as it has since 1904. But this time around, the ball will be made of Waterford crystal.
But New York's much-hyped Celebration 2000, where revelers were expected to cough up as much as $2,500 to party with Aretha Franklin, Sting and Andrea Bocelli, has been moved from the Javits Center to a to-be-announced venue, thanks to indifferent ticket sales. San Francisco canceled its fireworks display from the Golden Gate Bridge. Something about a lack of funds--and a wish to keep partiers from trampling the flowers next to the bridge.
And despite all the hype, not every city is encouraging its citizens to get out and shake their groove thing. In fact, in Miami, city officials are hoping that folks stay home--and keep the guns under lock and key. It seems that on New Year's Eves past, more than one reveler has been felled by stray bullets as people rang in the New Year with blasts from their shooting irons fired into the air.
"It'll be a shame to spend the millennium of New Year's Eve in jail," said Miami Police Department spokesman Angel Calzadilla. "But if that's what it takes . . . . People need to realize that what goes up must come down."