Michael Voigt is a party guy. On New Year's Eves past, the 28-year-old computer consultant has danced on the streets of London, braved the crowds in Georgetown and supped at some of Washington's toniest hotels. "It's a huge night for me," he said.
So where is Voigt going this Dec. 31? Will it be the glorious lights of Paris? The crystalline waters of the Caribbean? Or perhaps downtown, to the ballyhooed millennium celebration on the Mall?
Try Ashburn. As in Loudoun County. As in suburban Virginia. An old friend is hosting a small get-together for a handful of acquaintances; they're calling it the "Y2Nowhere Party."
"The main point is that it's not located in a major city," said Voigt, who lives in Arlington and sponsors his own "Northern Virginia Party Page" on the Internet. "I've got tons of things that I could do, but I'm not going to do them. . . . Every nutty person that wants to make a statement will make their statement that night, and I don't want to be around."
For countless average residents, the anticipated millennium blowout looks headed for a washout.
Wary of rowdy crowds, weary of endless hype and spooked by the prospect of trouble, many would-be New Year's Eve revelers are forgoing a Big Event in favor of a small party or a quiet night at home. Grand public spectacles are out; private celebrations with friends and family are in.
Tepid interest already has doomed or hobbled a host of millennial events planned in Washington, New York and other cities. The Smithsonian Institution has scaled back its three-day program and moved the whole thing inside, while attendance estimates have been lowered for the White House soiree. Cruise lines have slashed prices on once-exorbitant travel packages, dozens of concerts nationwide are underbooked or scrapped, and airlines continue to drop flights because of a lack of interest.
Just last week, organizers of the grand "America's New Millennium" charity gala in downtown Washington called the whole thing quits--apparently because few were interested in paying $500 to $2,000 for tickets.
Not everyone is staying home, of course. Many hoteliers and promoters insist that interest is still stronger than usual for New Year's Eve, and demand for wait staff, limousines and other necessities remains high. Local family-oriented celebrations, such as the hundreds of First Night events across the country, also are bracing for large crowds.
"It's not across-the-board that people aren't planning on celebrating," said Michael Harrigan, president of Shack Events, which is hosting large parties for young adults at MCI Center and Georgetown Park mall. "Every indication we have is that more people are going out this year than in previous years. . . .
"But there might have been some unrealistic expectations for some of these events, and that's why they're running into trouble."
Consider Sherry Santana, a 41-year-old federal worker from Waldorf. She and her husband initially hoped to do something extravagant to usher in 2000. But outlandish prices and dire predictions soon scared them off.
Instead, the couple plans to have a few friends over for champagne and a buffet spread. Spending time with friends and family, she said, is a better way to commemorate the occasion.
"We thought about going out; it is the millennium after all," said Santana, who also celebrates a birthday Dec. 30. "But we have champagne tastes on a Diet Coke budget. If we did it, we'd want to go to Paris or something. Otherwise, we decided we might as well stay home."
Santana is part of a quiet throng. When first pondering their New Year's Eve plans, many had high hopes dashed by high prices or, in other cases, high anxiety.
For a year now, officials have sounded a drumbeat of warnings about potential computer problems crashing bank networks, power supplies and other systems. The State Department recently warned overseas travelers about possible terrorist attacks.
The symbolic turn of the calendar, many fear, could provide the wrong kind of inspiration for troublemakers.
"All you have to do is look at what happened in Seattle, where just a few dedicated people made things very unpleasant for everybody," said business analyst Wayne Steinhilber, referring to rioting at the recent World Trade Organization conference. "You get concerned about the havoc just a few nuts can create. . . . All in all, being able to save money and ring in the new year in safety is a much better option."
To that end, Steinhilber plans to share a prime rib roast and a chilled bottle of champagne with a friend, watching the latest "Austin Powers" and "Psycho" movies at his home in Silver Spring.
Much the same is true for technical writer Tracy Da'Costa and her fiance, Rodney Harris, who plan to dine at home in Odenton.
The couple will watch the festivities in New York and Washington on television.
"Isn't it sad? I'm 28 years old, and I'm staying home on the eve of the new century," Da'Costa said. "I would normally go out to a party, but I'm worked up in a frenzy. . . . Everybody is so worked up that something is going to happen that everybody is staying home."
Or at least close to home. Marie Kisner, organizer of the Town of Vienna's humble fireworks celebration, said she expects a record crowd of more than 5,000 this year. She said callers frequently praise the event for being nearby, free and small in scope.
Promoters of other modest, community-oriented events--including the numerous alcohol-free First Night celebrations--say they are hearing much the same from those seeking tickets and information.
"People are waiting for the lights to go out anyway, so they want to be close to home and in a more intimate setting," said Karen Bixler, executive director of Spotlight on the Arts, which is hosting a New Year's Eve ball in Fairfax City. "They don't want to be too far away in case the trains break down. People don't know what to expect out there."
For Angela Hovermale, the best party will be the one thrown with her husband and their two young daughters, Amanda and Erin.
The family will celebrate the date change together at home. Hovermale's goal is a quiet and safe New Year's.
"We had a babysitter if we wanted to go out, but I'd rather be with my kids if something bad happens," the 28-year-old Alexandria homemaker said. "Now they're talking about terrorists. I don't want to sound like a nut or anything, but you have to wonder. . . . I hope there's no disasters, and we have power and telephones and everything else. That's all I'm hoping for now."