Times Square. New Years Eve. Nothing says it better than sitting in a dark theater watching a smash-hit rom-com of the same name, but the real thrill is experiencing it in person. Just ask the approximately one million people (although there’s no official count,) who go to the Crossroads of the World to experience it live. And I was one of them.
Yes, I was The Shepherd, guiding a flock of six people (which dwindled from the original twelve,) through the pressing bodies and buzzing energy of the official New Years celebration on Planet Earth. Working a job that was promoted as a Times Square Pub Crawl, my original group of a dozen joyful, overly excited clients ran the gamut.
We had 22-year old ladies from Cincinnati and Cleveland who were so smashed off of Champagne, Baileys and Bud Light that they were off their feet by 9:30. We had a group of tuxedo’d Norwegians who were so paranoid of being swindled they also failed to leave the first bar. We had a one-armed Knicks fan that was glued to the TV and his friend with two left feet from Fort Lee, NJ. After I left these locos at the first bar, my companions for the rest of the night included a German man who mastered five languages, his supermodel Brazilian wife, some hard-drinking Bostonians (who bestowed upon me the nickname “The Shepherd” and last, but not least, the sweetest, black couple from Tampa Bay, FL, named LaLa and Latrice.
We started our pub crawl at Lucky Strike Lanes at 12th avenue and 42nd street. We pushed, shuffled, excuse-me’d and apologized our way eastward on 42nd until we got to the barricades at 8th avenue. This is where my Tour Guide’s silver-tongue came into play: I must have sweet-talked those dear dutiful members of the police force for half an hour before we finally crossed East of 8th and our holy grail: a fraction of the ball.
The Times Square ball has had seven different incarnations; the first made its debut in 1907, weighing in at 700 pounds. Before all that though, NYc first celebrated New Years Eve in Times Square in 1904, the same year that the NY Times moved to the square. Fireworks were shot off at midnight in 1904 and the crowd marveled at the colors, the lights, and the flames licking at the corners of a half-dozen buildings. Prior to being called Times Square (for the newspaper,) the area was known as Longacre Square—the horse market. With all the hay built up in garages, rooftop sheds and street corners, fireworks wasn’t exactly the best idea. So they decided to do something a little safer: take a time ball, used by Mariners around the world, used to signify the exact stroke of noon, which was essential in celestial navigation; then move that ball really slowly down a pole!
One hundred and five years later, revelers from around the world cram their way as close as possible to the intersection of 7th Ave and 42nd Street. However we were without a single millimeter left to move, so we conceded to stick it out the final twenty minutes; we could see the Big Ball from where we stood. The Big Ball debuted in 2008, built out of 2,688 Waterford Crystals and over 32,000 LEDs. It has the ability to display shifting themes; 2012 includes “Let There be Friendship,” an engraving of people holding hands around the world as well as “Let There Be Courage” and “Let There Be Joy.” Whatever – we got to see the Big Ball go down, followed by fireworks which light up the sky. Then we took off – pushing through the crowds to get the heck out of there, towards a bar with drinks and dancing celebrants until the night came to a close.
(P.S. That picture of Lady Gaga with the Mayor? I KNEW Lady Gaga back when her name was Stephani Germanotta – we both went to Camp Hi Rock, summers of ’99 to ’03. My childhood friend Eric took Stephani to the junior prom. But then she went Gaga and simply hasnt been the same since . . .)
By Jonah Levy