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Travel Stories of Steve Goodyear

New Year's Eve in Times Square

USA | Saturday, 1 January 2011 | Views [720]

Things get rolling pretty early in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. For a moment there, I was worried we were going to miss it: locked out of the area, forced to celebrate New Year’s Eve somewhere else, possibly somewhere depressing and lame like back at the hotel.

As I was making my way back to the hotel to get ready for New Year’s Eve, my taxi passed through Times Square where I saw there were people already staking out a place for the night. They were announcing that they were closing the streets to traffic at three to set up pens for people – people who were already queued to get in to spend the rest of the day waiting in a pen. This was only just after two!

My goodness, I wasn’t expecting people to be there so early. We freshened up quickly at the hotel and walked over to Times Square; thankfully the hotel was just a block away. Hoping to find a place, we were corralled right out of Times Square by the NYPD so they could sweep and secure the area before letting people back in. That’s when we noticed the thousands of people already queued to get back in.

I had this sinking feeling as we walked up a side street looking for a queue to get back in. It was a depressed feeling like we had come all the way to NYC just to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and we missed our chance. And not only that, but we had no back up plans. There was a worry for a couple blocks as we waited to discover our fate.

Then we came upon our first side street that looked like it was going to let people queue. There was a huge crowd of people waiting at the end of the street outside a fence, so this looked to be our most promising prospect. We waited for what felt like forever, jammed in a serious crowd of people without really knowing if this was a line and we were getting in to Times Square, of if we were in the wrong place.

Eventually, the gate opened, and with a crowd of people pushing and shoving, rushing to get through the gate, we were in. Not in Times Square, but in what turned out to be a queue: a fenced off area on a side street leading into Times Square. It seemed like progress, but nobody was telling us anything, so there was no actual confirmation this queue was actually a queue, or that we would actually get in to Times Square.

There were so many people squeezed together in this crowd, pressed up against each other, trying to endure this uncomfortable situation for hopefully not much longer. We were in this queue, fenced in this packed crowd for a couple of hours as it turned out. There were some funny people in the crowd though, like one girl who, after the crowd shifted a little with a few people brushing up against her, she turns to her friend to report “I think I’ve just been impregnated.” A guy looked like he was not enjoying himself at all while his girlfriend looked up looking as sweet as she could look, assuring him that it’s once in a lifetime.

Thoughts ran through our heads, like what if the NYPD were containing us here because this was an overflow area for Times Square for people who weren’t early enough to actually get in the square but still wanted to be close. What if this was where we were going to spend New Year’s Eve? Crammed in, squished by strangers invading our personal space; uncomfortable, already tired, and with no view of anything!

Thankfully, the fence eventually opened and the crowd made a dash, pushing and throwing elbows, heading to Times Square. Police yelled for people to slow down, but most people ran anyways. When we came out from the side street and rounded the corner, we were corralled into another pen: our final destination for the night. Another pen in a long series of pens fencing people in all the way down Seventh Avenue to the famous ball, pens that continued for blocks north of our sport as well.

As we were stuck in the middle of the crowd in the pen, squished as people pushed to get closer, we tried to maintain what were referred to as our bubble: a small area of space in the middle of us that we stood in a circle around to protect. This was the only personal space we could get. For a while, anytime the crowd shifted, we’d remind each other to “maintain the bubble.” Any slack given, and the space was gone for good. We fought to hold our space, thinking we’d need it to keep from losing our mind in the crowd.

Then, there was a countdown, a warm-up of sorts. The crowd got into it, there were brief fireworks. On the hour, every hour, they’d count down to the hour, and then announce how many more hours to go until midnight. Wow, at this point there were still seven hours to go! We were still committed to seeing this through, but it sure set in just how much time there was to go. I also realized that I skipped breakfast on my way to go see the Statue of Liberty that morning, and in our rush to get from the hotel to Times Square we skipped lunch.

Things were looking dim: we were hungry, growing tired, losing our battle to maintain a bubble of personal space, and already grown sick of the crowds of people. Then we spotted how empty it was at the back of the pen, just a hundred feet back. With everyone pushing, trying futilely to get closer to the ball that was well beyond our pen anyways, they left a huge gap at the back of the pen. Finally some comfortable space!

After a few hours, we finally managed to flag down one of the guys selling pizza up and down the sidewalk to people in the pens. We got a small pizza each, and scarfed it down in just a couple bites. We didn’t get any coffee or any other drinks they were selling, because there are no washrooms in our pen. You can leave the pen to go to the washroom, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be allowed back in. In fact, it seemed like only one in three actually made it back. We saw one couple where the guy was ringing in the New Year on the phone with his girlfriend who had left to use the washroom and didn’t make it back.

As the hours passed, we amused ourselves people watching. I’m pretty imaginative, and started coming up with backstories for some people. Particularly for one guy who was pretty active mingling in the crowd, I eventually came up with the idea that he was probably from Homeland Security and was undercover in the crowd to feel everyone out. There were other interesting characters too, and people who resembled TV characters. There were also interesting police personalities as they patrolled around the pen. All mildly amusing enough to keep us slightly entertained while the hours passed.

Then the moment we waited for: the ultimate countdown. After hours of warm-up countdowns that taunted us with how many hours were left, it was not time. We made it to the countdown to midnight in Times Square on New Year’s Eve! Thousands and thousands of people yelling out the countdown, watching the clock, seeing the ball drop, seeing the fireworks, and finally yelling out with the crowd in Times Square, “Happy New Year!”

It was 2011, we had done it. We experienced New Year’s Eve in Times Square. And after keeping the crowd contained in pens for hours that day, within a minute into 2011 people were going every direction, jumping rails, going everywhere to get out of there. After the police keep everyone so contained all day, at 12:01 it didn’t matter where you went as long as you got the hell out of Times Square. And we did.

We finally made it back to the hotel, where we had champagne waiting. Thankfully I planned ahead enough to fill the bathroom sink full of ice and leave the bottles in that. This is my previous excessive travel experiences coming in handy. There they were, all chilled and ready for us to toast in the New Year! We had some premium champagne, and it was delicious. Happy New Year, indeed!

Tags: new york, nyc, nye, times square, waiting


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