This year, I decided to wave goodbye to 2011 in a new and unique way: by watching the big ball drop in Times Square. “Unique”, I now see, is a bit of an ironic way to put it since approximately two million other people chose the same celebratory method as I and my party of eight other adventurous folks. Since the entire day was a large countdown, I shall tell the story of this experience in the same fashion that we experienced it: hour by hour.
4:00AM: My day begins at 4:00AM when I awake and begin to don layer after layer of clothing in preparation for a chilly day outdoors. I do not, at this point in time, realize that this is my last taste of personal space that exceeds three feet.
5:00AM: Myself, my boyfriend and his brother meet up with our party of now seven people and get ready to make the nearly drive from Maryland to New York City.
6:00AM: Driving. Actually my boyfriend is driving, I am sleeping.
8:00AM: We have experienced a reprieve at a diner in Pennsylvania where we order food to go and I take the next driving shift while my boyfriend eats a much-deserved breakfast and takes an even more-deserved nap.
9:00-11:00AM: Driving…nothing to report.
11:00AM: We arrive in New Jersey to catch our bus to Times Square. I remember this moment because it’s the last time I use a restroom. In about seven hours I will remember this event with utmost fondness and even longing.
12:00PM: We arrive in Times Square and I start looking for things to blog about. I mean…we look for a place to do what we shall do for the next twelve hours: stand.
1:00PM: This is when it hits us how long we are going to be standing. We made a circle that collapsed slightly whenever someone shifts and tried not to get pushed around by the crowd. At this point it is unimaginable to me that we will still be in this position in twelve hours. About three or four times, someone drives a car through Times Square, which I don’t understand even a little bit because there could not be more people crammed into a tight space, and the only thing more confusing to me than driving a car through this space is driving a car in New York City at all. I won’t lie, I really thought I would see a celebrity, but I did not. These people are just like me, except far less socially aware.
2:00PM: Realizing we will not be eating for approximately twelve hours and understandable concerned that our supply of energy bars, apples and cheese and crackers would prove insufficient nutrition, my boyfriend and I decided to get a pizza for our comrades. It turns out that not only is extracting oneself (let alone two) from a crowd packed tighter than tuna in a can is not as easy as one might have thought, but that pizza places are crowded. In fact, getting to the hole-in-the-wall establishment turned out to be nothing more than going from one tuna can to another. We were then presented with a language barrier that, in all honesty, we should have expected, but thankfully “We want whole pie!” is universally understood by those who make “whole pies”. We then extracted ourselves once again from the crowd of people and made our way back to the group who had been pushed a few feet back but were still barely reachable. We passed the pie over the heads of jealous watchers and watched as they enjoyed the fruits of our labor before passed pieces back to us. We were standing so close that my boyfriend and I had to take turns eating as there was not room for both of us to extend that far with our hands. We were adequately entertained by a gentleman yelling into a cell phone: “Tracy! Tracy I can’t get any closer! No Tracy, really, I tried Tracy, I tried!” At one point my boyfriend said (loud enough to be heard much to my delight) “Tell Tracy to come try!”
3:00PM: The police decide we look to comfortable (I didn’t know I could touch that many people by just scratching my nose) and move us around from block to block trying to fill in the space around Times Square. We went from not seeing the ball to seeing it to not seeing it to not seeing it. Were it on a swinging string, we would have been surely hypnotized.
4:00PM: More of the same, we were herded like cattle, trapped like netted fish and disregarded like most TNT drama series at the Emmy’s. But we were getting closer to our goal, and this was encouraging. At one point we encountered a street no one was allowed to enter without hotel check-in cards, which a third of the crowd produced and left. Besides being prohibited from entering the street we were also not allowed to move backwards, and not wanting to spend the last eight hours of 2011 getting smacked in the face repeatedly by the weave belonging to the woman on my right, we all decided to hop the fence and find a place that was…anywhere else.
5:00PM: As luck would have it, we were funneled into a waiting area with the ball in full view and knew that it was our solemn duty to camp out the rest of the year there. We were able to move around, look to our rights and lefts and best of all: see the ball. This was a wonderful place indeed, and now we had to just stand there….for the next seven hours.
6:00PM: The standing had not quite gotten old. We played games and examined our surroundings, taking turns sitting on the ground and trying not to dive into our food supply. There was a countdown at the end of every hour in Times Square so we could practice our excitement for the real one coming in just five short hours.
7:00PM: We began to snack lightly. It was my turn to sit 🙂
8:00PM: It is truly remarkable how much you can talk about when there is little else to do but talk. I learned a great deal about those waiting with me.
9:00PM: This was when I realized that I had to go to the bathroom and knew I’d encounter great difficulty doing so, so I tried to conserve my drinking. At about 9:30 I gave up and chugged a bottle of water, planning to thereafter attempt to exit the fenced in area and visit the Sbarro’s I could see on the corner. What an idealist I was, and quickly became an angry idealist when I cop informed me I could not leave the area if I wanted to go back inside. I was then presented with a new challenge I was determined to face…after I tried to hop the fence about three different times.
10:00PM: It grew chillier and our snacks dwindled, but we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Someone texted that they saw us on television, and I wondered if it was while I was trying to hop the fence. Sbarros representatives sold pizza to the trapped and hungry crowd for $25 per pie, an outrageous price in normal life, but this was far from normal life. We enjoyed our second pizza of the day.
11:00PM: With one hour left in 2011, we could taste the New Year on our thirsty tongues, I alternating between dreaming of a toilet and trying not to think about how badly I wanted one and regretting the water bottle chug. Somewhere in the distance, Justin Bieber sang a song that was written before he was born, which I realize doesn’t narrow it down at all.
12:00AM: I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to see a crystal ball drop in my life, which doesn’t say much because I only watch that on television once a year. But the crowd erupted in noise as we entered the final countdown of the evening and bid farewell to the prior year, welcoming in the new one with excitement and joy. And Lady Gaga was there, and we couldn’t see her, so she wasn’t terrifying. It was a win all around.
Some may call us crazy, and that is possible. But there is something immensely gratifying about saying you’re going to do something months before and following through. It was exciting to experience the New Year in the epicenter of the celebration, to know that millions were tuning in on television to what we had seen live. Crazy? Perhaps. Worthwhile? Undoubtedly.