By Laurie Lewis
For more than a hundred years, crowds have been gathering in Times Square to usher in the new year. I wrote about how this tradition began in the December 2015 newsletter Tours and Tales of New York. In case you missed that issue or forgot the story, you can read it here. (In fact, you’ll find all back issues of the newsletter in the Newsletter Archive section of this website.)
This year, the revelers had to contend with added security measures and sub-zero feel-like temperatures. It was the second coldest New Year’s Eve in Times Square, with the temperature dropping into the single digits as the ball dropped. But the bitter cold and biting wind did not keep the hardy from partying hearty. Watching them on television from the comfort of my living room—which was cool but nowhere near as chilly as it was outside—I recalled the one and only time I ventured out to watch the ball drop in person. I wrote about that in my ebook My New York Stories. No point in reinventing the wheel. What follows in blue is an excerpt from that book.
I never had a strong desire to go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve, although it was on my maybe-someday list. But my niece and nephew and his girlfriend at the time wanted to take part in the festivities. They weren’t New Yorkers and a little young to venture out on their own, so I went with them.
Once you arrive to see the ball drop, you can’t leave. Oh, you might be able to leave if you could work your way through the crowds, but you can’t return to your spot. My nephew’s biggest concern, and mine, was not being able to go to the bathroom for hours. The girls were more worried about the bitterly cold temperature. I suggested we get there around 10 PM to minimize the discomfort.
After we ate dinner, being careful to limit our fluids, we donned multiple layers on every part of our bodies. The subway was jammed, but no worse than rush hour. We got off at 42nd Street on the east side and followed the crowds. And followed the crowds. And followed the crowds.
The herd of revelers in front of us had gone only as far west as Sixth Avenue. Around 48th Street, I suggested we break away and head two blocks west to where the ball-watchers gather. We tried, unsuccessfully. Police at every intersection sent us north, following the crowds. We followed the crowds. And followed the crowds. And followed the crowds.
At 59th Street, the crowds finally turned west, and we dutifully followed. It was a short walk. In front of us was a sea of people no longer able to move because of the sea of people in front of them. Several Jumbotron screens towered above.
We were nowhere near 42nd Street, where the ball drops, or Broadway, where the early revelers gather. We were more than a mile from the action. At least we weren’t alone. We were squashed among all the other unknowing fools who had left home late to avoid bladder accidents and frostbite.
The mood wasn’t exactly festive. Instead of blowing noisemakers, the 59th Street gang were bemoaning their fate, stuck far from where they thought they’d be and freezing their tails off. Then the mood suddenly changed. The countdown had begun. The numbers rang out in unison, culminating in a shout: Happy New Year!
As the kissing began, the shouting quieted down, and I heard another sound. I turned my eyes from the Jumbotron to the dark space directly north. Fireworks over Central Park!
Knowing what her answer would be, I asked my niece, “What’s the best place in New York?”
“Central Park,” she said. “Why?”
“Turn around. You’re standing right next to the park, and you’ve got a great view of the fireworks before the Midnight Run.”
Who cares about a ball drop in Times Square when you can watch fireworks over Central Park instead?
Actually, fireworks are an old way to usher in the new year. Read my article in the December 2015 newsletter, and you’ll discover that fireworks, not a ball drop, were central to the first celebrations in Times Square. You’ll also learn why the pyrotechnics there stopped.