Cities Taming New Year's Celebrations

Times Staff Writer

A group of Fullerton residents welcomed in the new year Tuesday night from atop a tethered hot air balloon floating over their city's downtown. Others celebrated by getting their faces painted or eating tacos and hot dogs.

For Bill Knight, it was a chance to fulfill one of his girlfriend's fondest fantasies: being serenaded to the tune of "Unchained Melody" amplified by a karaoke mike.

"We rode our bikes down here," Knight, 40, said when his song was done. "Before, all we did was go to drunken parties or stay home alone -- we wanted to try something new."

That seemed to be the trend as thousands of people across Orange County observed New Year's Eve at outdoor community festivals instead of raucous gatherings or in front of their television sets.

Disneyland hosted its usual event, with live music, dancing and fireworks. Rancho Santa Margarita held its second annual "Celebrating Family and Friends" party in the city's Central Park, complete with musicians, artists and clowns. And in Fullerton, it was time for the 12th annual "First Night Fullerton," which blanketed several square blocks of downtown.

"It's for all ages," said Sylvia Palmer Mudrick, public information coordinator for the event, inspired by a Boston festival begun in 1976 to cap the nation's bicentennial.

"Fullerton has always been a family-oriented community," she said, "and we wanted to provide citizens a way to welcome in the New Year as families in a safe environment. There is no alcohol at any of the events."

That didn't seem to dampen the spirits of participants.Jim Bak of Fullerton said he brought his wife and twin 13-year-old daughters to get away from the noise at the bar he owns in town. "There's a band playing there right now," he said, "and it's not that much fun. This is a way of getting away from the hectic lifestyle, and it's a good time for the kids."

Jan Perkins said he liked the juggler best. "I got to hold the flaming torches while he got up on the unicycle," said Perkins. "I thought they were going to make me swallow a flame or something."

Jenna Geiger came with her husband, John, and their two young children for the "good family fun. We came for the hats, the greasy food and the street entertainment. John would put the greasy food first."

Police countywide said that it was a relatively quiet New Year's Eve with no major incidentslate into the evening.

At least one reveler had a theory about that. "We used to go to parties," said Perkins, 54. "But that was in the old days when you could enjoy a glass of wine without worrying about having to walk a white line."

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