A Holiday Tradition, of Sorts
by Mark H. Bloom with Jason Scholder
New Year’s Eve is a holiday meant to be shared — with friends, lovers, and other drunks. You say farewell to the old year and ring in the new with solemn wishes, unattainable resolutions, and lots of champagne. It’s a tradition you undoubtedly will repeat again this year.
While no one has to travel to celebrate this holiday, there is arguably one place in the world where New Year’s Eve is a cultural phenomenon: Times Square in New York City. Admit it: you watch the festivities on television every year. Everyone in America watches, even those three time zones away.
Why Does It Always Involve Drinking?
Like all of us, you probably dream of seeing the event live and in person. Just up and leave your torpid little hometown for the electric Big Apple. Maybe you get caught up in the holiday hype, when wishing can seem to make any dream come true. Maybe you want to appear on TV for all your friends to see, if only as a dot in the corner of the screen. Maybe you’ve just consumed way too much alcohol.
Whatever the reason, people from around the world flock to Manhattan on New Year’s Eve to participate in that hundred-year-old ritual now known as Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve with Ryan Seacrest.™ Which, I have to say, is like writing “The Autobiography of Mark Bloom by Jonathan Franzen.” Which, I have to admit, isn’t likely to ever happen, even though I’ve known Jonathan.
Best Intentions and the Road to Hell
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in New York City is like attending the Super Bowl: you wait three hours for one minute of excitement. OK, that’s unfair. It’s more like climbing Mount Everest: enduring physical torment and bitter cold for one moment of exhilaration. So if you must go, be prepared. Hire an experienced expedition team.
Plan to arrive by mid-afternoon or the only action you’ll see is your neighbor throwing up on your shoes. While security can be tight — no alcohol or backpacks are permitted — it doesn’t seem to matter. People find a way to drink. If police can’t keep drugs out of a maximum-security prison, what makes them think they can keep alcohol off a public street in New York City?
A Personal Journey into the Heart of Darkness
The year I went, I arrived at 5:00 PM, already too late to score a prime location. I was then squeezed into one of the designated pedestrian zones with thousands of strangers and other sadomasochists. The practiced few had already staked out the most comfortable spots, with a railing or a shorter person to lean on.
We all had to suffer for many more hours on our feet, in the cold, without any food or drink other than the smuggled candy bars and the flask of Sambuca. That’s when I discovered to my dismay — and at the least opportune moment — that I had to somehow hold my bladder for the duration of the event because there are no public restrooms. Luckily, I discovered a work-around or I never would have made it to midnight. (Keep reading.)
After the hours of waiting, the interpersonal leg-wrestling, the near-freezing temperatures … after all that, as a reward, I got to watch a big, lighted ball float down a flagpole while all of my new friends and I counted down the sixty glorious seconds leading up to midnight.
The Horror, The Horror
Everyone, raise your arms to celebrate! We had to, to protect ourselves from the two thousand pounds of confetti dumped on Times Square. Meanwhile, some native New Yorker picked my pocket. Happy New Year!
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Times Square has a history of subversive acts, ever since the New York Times set up shop there. Of course, the Square itself isn’t what it used to be. Instead of a red-lit doorway filled with round, bouncing made-in-America women, now you’ll find the brightly lit entrance to a Hello Kitty store filled with round, bouncing made-in-Japan toys.
Times Square has been cleaned up, scrubbed down, and made fit for four-year-olds. As a result, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve with Ryan Seacrest™ has sadly lost its bounce, sort of like Mr. Clark himself. (No disrespect to the deceased. Dick Clark was an icon while he lived, but if this is his legacy, he should have stopped after American Bandstand.)
Bite the Big Apple!
People say you have to do it once in your lifetime. Those same people say they’ll never do it again. Like me, they have stains on their pants that won’t come out. Like me, they have horrid memories of peeing into a bottle. Like me, they have doctor bills from near-frostbite.
No matter how famous Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve with Ryan Seacrest™ becomes, it just isn’t worth the physical distress. No matter how energized you might feel immediately afterward, given time — like 24 hours — you’ll make a resolution never to do that again.
Lessons Learned: New York City is a must-see destination. It’s the city all other cities try to emulate. Go see an off-Broadway play. Tour Greenwich Village. Listen to live music in a wedge-shaped nightclub. New York has more going on at 2:00 AM than most cities do at 8:00 PM. But avoid Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Why torture yourself?
Mark H. Bloom is a published writer and editor originally from Salem, Massachusetts, where nothing happens on New Year’s Eve. Mark now resides in the scenic town of Asheville, North Carolina, where the New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled due to budget cuts. Mark entertains himself by writing creatively and professionally, editing books, and doing video work. Get in touch with Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.