By the calendar, it was only fifteen years ago. Yet, with all that has radically changed since then, it seems like an entirely different century.
And, of course, it was.
People were using Blackberries. You could still buy an iPod Classic. There were no camera phones. Sure, most people were using email – but not for quite yet a decade.
Only three months before, Hilary Clinton had bought a home in New York, gearing up for a tough race for the U.S. Senate against New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani. Former President George Bush was known as former President George Bush. Not former President George H. W. Bush.
Dick Cheney was an obscure ex-Congressman from Wyoming.
It would still be five months before Britney Spears came out with her Oops!… I Did It Again. Cassette tapes were long gone, and CD’s ruled the aisles of music emporiums like The Virgin Store. Smashing Pumpkins was a hot band, not an act of vandalism.
And Paris Hilton was a place to stay when visiting the capital of France.
All the while, as the months of 1999 neared New Year’s Eve, the wearied world was on hot red alert, ready to weather what most feared would be the worst global catastrophy ever to hit civilization.
They called it “Y2K,” as in “year two thousand.”
Bank deposits would be haywire.
Computers would explode from internal confusion.
Planes would fall from the sky if you happened to be flying on one precisely at midnight.
Everyone would go around thinking it was 1900 just because all the digital clocks would go bonkers.
At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999, the world would be launched into the Twenty-First Century!
For the quaint at heart, the passing of the dear, old Twentieth Century was the sad goodbye, but most of the world had been bitten with Millenniumitis.
This was going to be a life-changing New Year’s Eve!
The globe was fixated on one second, that moment of the last second of the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the last week of the last month of the last year of that last decade of that last century of the First Millennium.
Of course, those parts of the globe in the earliest time zones would already be living in one millennium while the later time zone folks were still stuck in the old one.
And if you were lucky enough to have reached one hundred years of age before midnight, surviving just a few more minutes would mean you’d lived for three centuries!
To catch a bit of the fervor, I took my antiquated Pentax K1000 and headed down to “the nation’s backyard,” Washington, D.C.’s National Mall and just see how this nation was coping with the anticipation.
Along the way, I passed regular, working people leading their regular working days, many pausing in store where television sets were blaring so customers could catch a glimpse of those people on the other side of the globe already living in the future.
Here and there, one encountered alarmists and optimists each with their sets of just how different life would be for us all the next morning.
By and large, however, it was a rather mundane, chilly, post-Christmas day of tourists huddling around souvenir stands. Kids were bickering, grandmas lingering over styrofoam shells filled with lunch.
And yet, for some reason, I snapped away. It would be a bit of a visual time capsule and perhaps, over the decades to follow, a starting point for a visible shift in our evolution. It would be a record of a very historical day.
The 21st century, the new millennium of another, new one thousand years would not really begin until the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2000.
But nobody seemed willing to wait an entire year just to be mathematically correct when the excitement of universal demise was so close at hand.
People wanted to party like it was 1999 simply because – well, it was. And because, at the end of the day or the end of the millennium, people are always just human.