This past weekend, I did something I’ve wanted to do since I was 15 more or less: watch the New Year’s Eve ball drop in person in Times Square, New York City.
This post is kind of long, mostly for my own record and recollection. You may also find it useful if you’re planning to be in Times Square for a future new year’s eve.
For the impatient, here are some pictures and the key video on YouTube:
I’ve lived close enough to NYC for a while, and I’ve even been there on New Year’s Eve in the past. But I always either have another idea, or get talked into another idea: a house party with friends, a fancy ball, some crazy dinner, a cruise, or similar.
A few months ago I decided this year I was going to do it, no matter what. Any and all friends were welcome to join me, and a couple of brave souls did! Thanks, T and D, for spending the time with me in the cattle-style holding pens in Times Square.
The experience itself was amazing. There are huge crowds, as you expect and as you see on TV. I find them energizing. I can easily imagine other people becoming claustrophobic or panicked, and actually saw that happen once or twice.
You have to stand there for a long time: we arrived around 3:30pm, and got back to our hotel around 1am, spending all that time standing outside. You need to be dressed in comfortable warm clothing, which we were, and we also got lucky with unseasonably warm, dry weather.
There are definitely bladder control issues, so you need to be smart about what you eat and drink, when, and how much. But unlike what some web sites said, it was possible, with enough talking and kindness and patience, to use bathrooms in nearby restaurants, and get back into the holding pens. Not easy, and some of the bathrooms were supposedly super-nasty, but feasible.
If you go, you will want to bring a book (or iPad / Kindle), cards, games, and other things to pass the time. I read online that backpacks and such were not allowed in, but that rule was not strictly enforced. I wish I’d have brought some games to play with my friends.
You will meet people, and everyone is happy to chat. We talked to a group of Japanese girls from Tokyo, including one who just slept standing up a big chunk of the time. We met a couple of young German au-pairs from Frankfurt, guys from Bolivia and Argentina, and more. Everyone was friendly and in good spirits.
Barricades are set up early, and streets are closed by the early afternoon. You will want to stay in a hotel that’s right by Times Square, and keep your room key on you at all times, because that gets you past many NYPD checkpoints. (I stayed at Hotel Mela, and it was fine, the subject of an upcoming review.)
Alternatively, and even better, you will want to have at least one attractive flirtatious woman with you, who are willing to use their assets to get past other NYPD checkpoints. Yeah, that totally works, and it’s worth it. No harm done…
The best viewing spots are along 7th ave, starting around 45th street (44th is actually too close to the ball, at least given this year’s location), and going up to 49th. They will be completely full by around 4:30pm, so you will need to be there earlier, and start your wait.
There is a small countdown every hour, and sometimes they show scenes on the big screens from other countries celebrating the new year. Everyone cheers and practices taking photos of the countdown clock and the ball.
There are ongoing performances, and they’re fun. The sound setup, however, is lacking: no speakers past 46th street, it seemed like, so it can be hard to hear the music. I’d love for them to put speakers along buildings further up, all the way up to the park maybe.
Midnight itself is high-energy, high excitement, everything you’d expect and then some. Everyone is yelling, screaming, blowing horns, getting their cameras and phones ready…. The confetti come out floating very gently, at least the night we were there. People are kissing, although it seemed like mostly friends kissing on the cheek, not a ton of romantic stuff going on.
There are fireworks in Central Park right after midnight, as I found out. If you’re on 7th Avenue, you get a great view of them, which is another fun item. Almost everyone stays around to watch, as we mostly did. But a lot of people start climbing over the barricades out of the pens after midnight, probably running to a bathroom, and the cops don’t mind at that point.
There is a lot of milling about, people watching the confetti, taking pictures as the crowd starts breaking apart, and otherwise commemorating the experience. I enjoyed walking around for a while, before we grabbed more Champagne at the hotel.
The overall atmosphere is happy, energetic, upbeat, and excited — all positive. I didn’t see any fights or trouble, even though there were many many people stuck closely together for many many hours.
I did a bunch of other fun items this past weekend, about which I’ll blog separately. But this was a life highlight, something I always wanted to do. It was everything I expected / wanted, and then some. Highly, highly recommended.
I didn’t take that many pictures, and some are blurry or dark, but anyways, they’re all on Flickr:
PS: several people asked me during the night what’s the bright red coat I’m wearing, so maybe it’s interesting to this readership as well. It’s a fantastic mountaineering jacket. The exact model is no longer made, but the closest thing from the same maker (and color) is the Mountain Hardware Absolute Zero parka.