Admit it. You are face to face with another New Year’s Eve and you have no clue what you are going to do tonight. Another year gone and how will you greet the new one--dancing the night away at some L.A. hot spot? Or planted in front of the TV watching “Sesame Street Stays Up Late!”? Or worse, standing in the kitchen in your bathrobe, banging on a pot?
Los Angeles is a place where the last-minute clamor for a reservation is a rite of winter. And why not? Even the trendiest clubs have life spans of about six months.
But alas, this laid-back attitude may be catching up with us. The granddaddy of all New Year’s Eves is fast approaching. The turn of the millennium--1999--is six years away, and although that may seem an eternity by L.A. standards, the rest of the world is already booking.
The Queen Elizabeth II is locked up. The Rainbow Room atop New York’s Rockefeller Center is half filled. All over the world, people are plunking down deposit money and betting that six years might just be enough time to find a decent date.
“I thought, ‘My God, I better make a reservation,’ ” said Madonna Cavagnaro of Long Beach, who booked a table for four at the Waldorf Astoria in New York in 1990--nine years in advance. She plans to spend the fin de siecle dancing with her husband and their two best friends.
The reservation list at New York’s Waldorf--which throws a black-tie soiree every New Year’s Eve--is already approaching 100, including people from as far away as South Australia. “There are a lot of foreigners calling ahead,” said a woman in catering who is keeping a list of names and numbers because the hotel’s reservation books do not extend that far.
The Ritz-Carlton in New York is ironing out the details on a symbolically priced $2,000 package that would include a multiple-course gourmet meal, a memorable champagne and maybe a suite.
The Rainbow Room, which claims the highest champagne consumption of any restaurant in the world, is accepting $500 deposits with a guarantee that the evening “will not exceed $1,000.” More than 400 guests have sent checks.
The last time the calendar passed from one millennium to the other, a bunch of people in Europe flocked to churches on Dec. 31, 999, believing that the world would end at midnight. By dawn they had all gone home. Happy New Year.
Humankind prepares to cross that bridge again in a world considerably more complex. Few among us are likely to sleep through that moment six years from now when the clock strikes 12 and the 20th Century forever closes. It promises to be a lot like watching all the zeros click on the speedometer on your dad’s Buick, but more life-altering. It stands to be more than just another night of confetti-poppers and pointy hats. The urge will be powerful to do something memorable, the splashier the better.
But few began planning as early as Jim Hoogerwert of Atlanta.
Inspired by a novel about two soldiers in combat who agree to meet at the Waldorf if they survive World War II, Hoogerwert and his two best buddies struck a pact to spend New Year’s Eve 1999 at that very hotel. The year was 1957; they were 14 years old.
One of the three grew up to be an attorney but died in a drowning accident a couple of years ago. The second works in Washington for General Electric and plans to be there. Hoogerwert, now a Delta Airlines pilot in Atlanta, has made the reservation. He is going to rent a tux. He’ll be 56 years old.
“I could never imagine, then, being 56. It just seemed so far off. But time has a way of moving on,” he said sentimentally. “I hope we get a good table.”
Rumors of other pending bashes abound. A Japanese travel agency was reported to be planning to sail six cruise ships toward the international dateline so their passengers can be among the first living souls to witness the dawn of the third millennium since the birth of Christ. There is even talk that some daring domestic airline will, on that night, launch a first-ever commercial flight to the moon.
Even those ideas pale next to the party a little-known group called the Millennium Society has been cooking up for 11 years--a New York to Alexandria, Egypt, cruise aboard the Queen Elizabeth II, set to leave New York Harbor on Dec. 21, 1999. The estimated $1,000 per-day passage includes a New Year’s Eve extravaganza at the Pyramid of Cheops in Giza, Egypt.
The society has spent years drawing up a star-studded guest list that takes in everyone from Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to actor Macaulay Culkin. (He’ll be 19.) The group says RSVPs have been received from the Reagans, the Bushes, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Bob Hope, Kevin Costner and George Burns, who asked if he could bring a date. He’ll be 103.
“We truly are the oldest and largest group planning to celebrate the millennium,” said Carol Treadwell, executive director of the Alaska-based society. It was founded in 1979 by some graduating Yale University students who were making plans to reunite in 20 years when they realized the significance of that date. “Their parents thought they were a bunch of crazy kids; now it’s just around the corner.”
If the cruise is too pricey, the society is also putting together a “ ‘round-the-world, ‘round-the-clock” party that will link up, via satellite, each of the world’s time zones, beginning at the international dateline and working across Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and on to the Americas until the millennium has dawned all over the globe. Prospective sites for this celebration include the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon and Red Square.
Perhaps such global hoopla is not your style; there are those, after all, who believe that great parties are born, not made. In which case you could have a perfectly good time sitting in front of the television watching Mr. New Year’s Eve himself--Dick Clark--who will be hosting the usual Times Square mob scene that night. (Here’s a scary thought: He’ll undoubtedly look exactly the same at 70.)
“If all goes well, I shall be ringing in another New Year,” Clark said, adding ominously: “But I never assume anything.”
There is something rather bold about planning that far in advance, a presumptuousness that seems to spit in fate’s face. And there are plenty of people out there who are still in sync with our ancestral friends who spent New Year’s Eve 999 waiting for the heavens to part.
Several unorthodox religious groups, noting that the world failed to end on previously predicted occasions, are looking to the year 2000 for the earth to go up in an atomic puff of smoke or crumble into a zillion pieces under the force of simultaneous global quakes.
It is difficult to predict Armageddon’s exact date. But Daniel Alexander, spokesman for a Los Angeles-based religious group called The Family, says one big tip-off will be “the elimination of cash in our society to be replaced with a credit card system in which most of us will wear a computer chip in our foreheads or the right hand.”
“Then, Jesus is coming back,” he said.
If previous turns of the decade and century are any indication, you may be able to fill an entire New Year’s Eve reading all the retrospectives that will undoubtedly be published. Moonwalks, a polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox are, after all, mere blips on the millennial screen. We have a thousand years to cover this time around and historians have been keeping track. Consider the hits of the last 1,000 years:
1066: Halley’s Comet first spotted.
1278: glass mirrors invented.
1503: pocket handkerchief comes into use.
1666: first Cheddar cheese.
1680: extinction of the dodo bird.
1704: Bach writes his first cantata.
1808: Pigtails for men go out of fashion.
1839: Abner Doubleday conducts the first baseball game.
(We can all be grateful to have been spared a retrospective of the first millennium, which included such momentous events as: “Romans learn the use of soap from the Gauls” and “kettledrums and trumpets come to Europe.”)
If all of this millennial pressure is closing in on you, do not despair. There are those who say that the new millennium does not officially begin until the year 2001. They reason that millennia should be counted in 1,000-year chunks: zero to 1000; 1001 to 2000; and so on.
“It’s one of the technical things people like to point out,” the Millennium Society’s Treadwell said. “But the turn of the century was celebrated on New Year’s Eve 1899, not 1900. Even then a bunch of smarty-pants wrote letters.”
As you might have noticed, all of this advance planning seems to be occurring everywhere but Los Angeles, where not a single hotelier or restaurateur could be found who has given so much as a thought to New Year’s Eve 1999. This year’s bash is apparently more than enough to handle.
“They’ve been standing in line all week buying tickets,” said Alicia McAlpine, banquet manager at the Roxbury in West Hollywood, where wanna-be revelers were making last-minute reservations for tonight. “We live one day at a time out here.”