The world did not end yesterday, The Washington Post has learned.
The Apocalypse did not arrive. Neither did Armageddon or Christ or the Antichrist, according to reliable sources.
Meanwhile, the Y2K computer bug--which doomsayers had predicted would befuddle the world's computers, leading to a collapse of power grids, lights, water, financial systems and just about everything else, causing the much-anticipated End of the World as We Know It--also failed to arrive. Y2K turned out to be a virtual Comet Kahoutek.
What a letdown!
"It's like coitus interruptus," said Mark Schaffer, a Rockville computer consultant. "You know: Is that all there is?"
Of course, the millennium did leave some casualties. For instance, it led directly to the death of billions of brain cells killed by the excessive amounts of alcohol ingested by millions of humans in the hope of enhancing the excitement of the millennial moment. What the hell, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But the destruction of those cerebral cells caused thousands of humans to awake yesterday morning with heads aching so horrendously that they wished the world had ended.
But it didn't. It just looked that way, at least around the Washington metro area. The first day of the third millennium dawned to reveal that the land was shrouded in a thick, soupy gray fog that looked like the residual gun smoke of some horrific battle or maybe the setting of a post-apocalyptic horror film. But it was just plain old fog. The sun--yet another major power source unaffected by the Y2K bug--burned the fog away by 10 o'clock, bringing on a glorious, unseasonably warm day.
Gordon Harrell, 53, a surveyor from Rockville, took one look at the lovely day, grabbed his six iron and headed out to a park to whack some golf balls. And why not? Is there a better way to start a millennium? Didn't astronauts hit golf balls on the moon?
"I'm going to take a few practice shots and then go up to Frederick and play 18 holes," he said.
Harrell is a sensible man. He wasn't prey to millennial madness or Y2K paranoia. He didn't stockpile any Spam. Nor did he drink himself silly on New Year's Eve. He stayed home with his family, watched the news, noted that the world wasn't falling apart and went to bed.
"I don't feel any different today," he said. "Hopefully, we'll have a more positive experience in this millennium. There's stuff that bothers me. It seems like the society is getting more violent. I'm hoping that somebody or something can bring about some change in that respect."
He took a stance, brought his six iron slowly back, then whipped it forward, sending the ball high into the blue sky. It hung there for a moment, then dropped to earth a few feet from the soccer goalpost he was using as a target.
It was, he said, his best shot of the new millennium.
A few blocks away, Schaffer--the computer consultant who had spent most of 1999 working to foil Y2K bugs at a federal agency he would prefer not to mention--was at home, recounting a wry parable for Y2K consultants everywhere.
"I'm reminded of the story of the guy who comes upon a man furiously clapping his hands," Schaffer said. "He asks the man, 'Why are you clapping your hands so furiously?' The other man says, 'I'm keeping the elephants away.' The first man says, 'But there are no elephants within 5,000 miles.' And the other guy says, 'See, it works!' "
And that, Schaffer says, will be the response of all the Y2K consultants and computer geeks who collectively pocketed an estimated $500 billion for debugging the world's computer systems.
"They can't lose because nothing happened," he says. "And nobody will ever really know if anything would have happened anyway. It's going to be impossible to know if all those consultants furiously clapping really kept the elephants away."
Across the river in Arlington, Gerald Barney climbed out of bed about noon. "It's over," he said. "I'm exhausted."
Barney is the founder of the Millennium Institute, a Rosslyn-based nonprofit think tank dedicated to curbing the world's population and preserving its natural resources. He's been working on millennial issues for more than 20 years, since he wrote a report called Global 2000 for President Jimmy Carter. Last month, Barney helped coordinate a millennium-related gathering called the Parliament of World Religions, which drew 7,000 religious and secular leaders to Cape Town, South Africa.
Yesterday, after the millennium arrived, Barney planned to spend New Year's Day sifting through his files, throwing away stuff. "I would like to start off the New Year a little lighter," he said. But he's not going out of business and neither is his Millennium Institute, at least not while the world remains somewhat shy of Utopia.
"We've got 999 years to go to the next countdown," he said.
That's plenty soon enough for Clarence Seek, 70, a part-time caterer who greeted the dawn of the new millennium sipping coffee in his regular booth at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring and telling anybody who wanted to listen that Y2K was just a pile of hooey whipped up by the media.
"A lot of hype to sell people a whole lot of stuff," he said.
He never feared the Y2K bug, he said, but his daughter got bit. She went out and bought a generator to power her computer and her well-water pump if the system collapsed. "The younger people seemed more worried about it," he said, "since they're more into those computers."
Here at the Tastee--a 24-hour hash house that feels like it was frozen in amber in about 1938--the clientele is older, wiser, not so quick to panic at something as trivial as the arrival of a new millennium.
"Good morning! Happy New Year!," waitress Eunice Ramsey sang out, greeting customers. She knows almost everybody, having worked here since she left high school in the 1950s.
Ralph, a gray-bearded regular in an Elmer Fudd-style cap, ambled in and sat down in a booth behind Seek.
"What's the new year look like to you, Ralph?" Seek asked.
"Looks about the same," said Ralph, squinting out at Georgia Avenue. "Looks to me like just another Monday."
Monday? But, Ralph, it's Saturday.
"I told you I don't know [doodly]" Ralph said, grinning.
Eunice poured his coffee and he went to work on the morning crossword puzzle.
It was another day and the world hadn't ended and mankind was plodding off into another millennium.
Staff writers Frank Ahrens, Richard Leiby and Laura Sessions Stepp contributed to this report.