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Friday, January 3, 2014

Another High Point for Seasoned Citizens: New Year’s Eve in Times Square

Now why, you ask, would a 70-ish couple want to spend hours out in the cold, celebrating an event that comes predictably every year with 1,000,000+ of their close, very close, but not-so-personal friends? The average age of Times Square revelers is probably 22.

So why do it and maybe scare ourselves silly in the process? Because we could, and it was a stretch and, yes, a little scary. That’s the point. As we get to this age, there is a huge tendency to circle the wagons and play it safe. Not a good idea. If we don’t continue to grow intellectually, emotionally, and in competency, we shrink. There is no standing still.

Still, we all have to pick our challenges to match our interests and physical limitations. Times Square has some physical and psychological requirements that are significant.

1. Structurally: You have to be able to walk several miles and stand in essentially the same spot for up to 8 or 9 hours. I hopped a lot and did some deep knee bends when rigor mortis started setting in.
2. Cold: We’re talking New York City on the last night of the year. It can be snowing, sleeting, or just bitterly cold. Bring more layers than you think you need. Wear mittens: they keep your hands warmer and you can drop hand-warmer packs into them. Ours kept our hands moderately warm for 7 hours. Toe warmers stick to the bottom of your socks to warm your feet. That helped, too.
3. Bathrooms: We have to be frank here. Essentially, there are none. If your bladder can’t hold its own for 8 hours, you may have to rethink—or make provisions to help it. I thought this over carefully and came up with a plan. After my breakfast cup of coffee, I cut off all fluids for the rest of the day. And for the first time in my life, I wore Depends—just in case that wasn’t enough. Luckily, cutting off the fluids worked, but it’s always good to have a back-up. And I found out that anti-leaking undergarments are quite comfortable—for future reference.
4. Escape routes: In Times Square after about 3 PM, the police cut off most of the access roads and pedestrians are funneled through densely populated check-points, where you will be wanded and cleared to enter a cordoned-off viewing area with big metal barricades. The only way out, once packed in like cattle, is by climbing over the barricade, so you have to decide to either stay or that you are physically able to climb up and over. Once out, however, you will not be allowed back in.
5. Back to the packed in like cattle: If you have even a touch of claustrophobia, don’t do it. There are times when you are packed so tightly together with strangers of different sizes that you can’t even raise or lower your arms. You are totally pinned. My sweetie and I held on to each other through those areas with iron grips to keep from getting separated. I wanted him there at midnight. I came for the kiss!

So why would anyone want to do this? I can only answer why we did it. Several reasons:
• It was our 45th wedding anniversary and we wanted it to be bizarre.
• We had seen the ball drop on TV for so many years; we just wanted to see it happen live for once.
• Our kids blew off our offer of an all-expense paid Disney cruise and park vacation, and this was plan B.
• I was curious to see who else would be crazy enough to do this. I met people from France, Germany, Mexico, Dubai, Croatia and about 14 states. Of course, they were all under 30. New York City-ites wouldn’t be caught dead there.
So we did it, first counting down the hours and finally the minutes. We saw the crystal ball drop, saw the 2014 numbers light up amid fireworks, and kissed each other like we had another 45 years in us.

Then we slogged through the crowd for umpteen blocks back to our hotel, toasted each other with champagne and crashed! Next year, we’re thinking of New Year’s Eve in Red Square in Moscow. It didn’t look as crowded.