I’d love to tell you that this one ends well, but it doesn’t. I wish I could “Tarantino” it and start from the end, but I don’t have the writing chops to do that effectively. Instead I’ll start where all great adventures of young 20 somethings start: “My girlfriend and I started talking and had a great idea…”
On December 30, 2001, a close friend from High School, Amy, and I started talking about how cool it would be to go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. Talking led to looking online for airline tickets. Looking online led to finding tickets, roundtrip from Raleigh-Durham to La Guardia for about $100. More talking about the relative inexpensiveness of traveling to New York City for one night led to purchasing the tickets.
Thing #1 that we did wrong: thinking that getting to NYC around 7pm on New Year’s Eve would give us plenty of time to get to Times Square
Thing #2 that we did wrong: continuing to think that we had plenty of time and getting a couple of drinks in the hotel bar before heading out
Thing #3 that we did wrong: choosing to try to do this the New Year’s Eve after September 11th.
I’ve never tried to do this since so I don’t know how security normally is, but when we began making our way to Times Square, we found ourselves hitting a security line pretty early on. After standing in THAT line for about an hour, we passed through, only to hit ANOTHER security line, both complete with barriers. Perhaps they do that ever year and maybe its what they do later in the evening for “crowd control” but I suspect strongly that it had to do with the fact that roughly four months earlier a horrific event had occurred in NYC and security was extra tight all over.
After we cleared the second security line, we met up with another set of barriers. However, this was no line; this was “Do not pass go.” The mob of people were slowly trickling into essentially a holding pen. New York City cops lined the barriers, announcing on a bull horn that no more people would be allowed into Times Square. Regardless of what was being announced, people continued to stream into the holding pen and more and more people were crushing against me and Amy. Someone in the back began yelling “PUSH! They can’t stop all of us!” Like lemmings, the mob began pushing towards the barricade, me and Amy being pushed along with the rest of the crowd. Amy and I quickly realized that things were getting out of control and we clasped hands so not to be seperated. With one last push, the barricades came tumbling down and the mob came flowing through. To escape being trampled (which I can only assume happened to the people in the very front) me and Amy began running, too. Out of sheer nervousness and fear, all I can remember is me and Amy laughing hysterically, running down the middle of a New York City street with hundreds of other people running around us. I looked up once to notice that we were running by the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Unfortunately, the mob didn’t consider the intelligence and organization of the New York City police. We run up against another barricade, this time with police in mob gear. Again, it was announced that we should all turn around and go back and again, the same idiots began yelling to push. This set of barricades also gave through and again we were running with the crowd until BAM!, the police managed to put the barricades back up just as me and Amy got near the front. This last push, Amy and I had gotten seperated, and I was directly up against a barricade-Amy was a few people behind me. We could still see one another.
The mob began pushing again, and this time the barricades did not give. The cops kept telling people to back up, that the only way out was the way they came, but they kept pushing. Mob mentality is the scariest thing on Earth.
I felt like I was going to pass out, the crush of people was cutting off my air supply. At this point, it was about 11:40pm. The cop nearest to me could see I was in pain, so to get my mind off of the situation, he began talking to me, just small talk stuff but it did make me feel better. As I was at a juncture in the barricade, he said, quietly, “You know, you could probably fit through this crack.” I told him I was with a friend and I couldn’t leave her and he told me he’d look after her. So I squeezed through the barricade and of course, people saw and began pushing and yelling. Amy started freaking out that I was going to leave her (unfortunately, this was her first time to New York City and it was not going well), so I stood near the outside of the barricade to show her that I wasn’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, my presence was continuing to rile those still on the other side and the policeman made me stand further away down the sidewalk.
At midnight we could hear the cheers from Times Square a couple of blocks away. Twenty feet away from one another Amy and I waved at each other and yelled “Happy New Year!” but obviously without much cheer. As soon as the New Year had arrived, the policeman vacated their barricade and those within immediately began dispersing. Amy and I decided to go to Times Square anyway, at least to just see the aftermath, but we were turned away a block further down by a lone cop telling us that everyone was being made to leave the area.
We went back to the hotel room, discouraged and forlorn at the dissapointing outcome of the night. We got up early the next morning to see a little bit of the city before heading back to NC. I took Amy to Chinatown, SoHo, and some other favorite spots, and I think Amy began changing her opinion of the city.
So that’s my big story of the time I went to Times Square for New Year’s Eve. Although I never officially made it, I think this is a better story!
Have you ever been caught up in a crowd or in a mob? Ever had a crazy experience like this?