Dropping the Ball: Celebrating New Year's Eve, the Y2K Way... | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Dropping the Ball: Celebrating New Year's Eve, the Y2K Way...


Published December 1, 1999 at 1:00 a.m.
Updated December 31, 2015 at 9:01 a.m.

Burlington astronomer Joanna Rankin can justify, in cosmological terms, why she won't be whooping it up on New Year's Eve. "The calendar has been heavily mucked with over the years," she says of the arbitrary assignation of a year 2000. Furthermore, the counting has been based not on astronomical sources but on a Christian convention. "Anybody who thinks it's been just 2000 years since the birth of Christ hasn't been paying attention," she observes. "The Christian era was invented by an abbott from Scythia, now Moldova, whose name translates to "Dennis the Short," in 532. His reckoning is clearly wrong by at least a couple of years.”

But scientific skepticism is not likely to stop hordes of revelers from celebrating the last, and largest, party of the century with global abandon. The pressure has never been greater to make it to midnight — if for no other reason than to count yourself among the millennial masses when the great odometer in the sky turns to 2-0-0-0. Like missing Woodstock, it will be hard to explain to future generations how — and why — you slept through Y2K eve. Or, depending on how things go, what you did to prepare for it.

Of course, plenty of Vermonters are passing up the frozen fun of First Night Burlington to catch the Phish concert in Florida. Although details of the concert are still top-secret, rumor has it the band will play all night. It promises to be a night to remember — despite all those brain cells that will not make it to the 21st century.

Burlington businessman Ray Pecor is going one step further — ferrying folks from Miami to a family reunion in the Bahamas. Hurricane Lenny, an uninvited guest, already stopped in.

Colder, but no less exotic, are the black-tie and Sorel affairs right here in Vermont. Lane Press owners Phil and Linda Drumheller are doing it up at Shelburne Farms to benefit the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, with Tammy Fletcher giving the "Auld Lange Syne." Construction mogul Remo Pizzagalli and his wife Donna are pulling out all the stops at the Inn at Essex. And arts entrepreneur Nicholas Hecht hints there will be something doing at the once and future Pyralisk in Montpelier.

Judge F. Ray Keyser will also be celebrating — probably in his chair by the door, with the television on. When the ball drops, the 101-year-old Red Sox fan from Chelsea will give thanks for the fact that he has been alive in three centuries. Interpreting for her father, who is hard of hearing, Keyser's daughter Natalie Niles reported that the judge plans to turn in at the usual time: 10 o'clock. But two days later, he told me himself —- with a party hat on his head — he has every intention of staying up until midnight.

Despite the social pressure, "bed" does look to be the number-one choice for most Vermonters, including such luminaries as Fred Tuttle. For all its hype and good cheer, even this New Year's is not for everyone — with its marathon approach to merrymaking . "I don't like all the hubbub particularly," says Irish-born poet Greg Delanty, calling the millennium concept "melodramatic." So even those who opt for a long view of their own eyelids before a first glimpse of the next century can rest assured — they are not alone.

Here's what some other notable Vermonters are doing...or not.

David Budbill, Wofcott


I have no plans whatsoever, unless you count "staying home" a plan. We are better outfitted to cope with any difficulties than anyone I can think of, so we may be staying home with a lot of people. I put a hundred more feet on the overflow pipe on my spring today, so I could get water at the edge of my driveway when there is no electricity. We have a gas stove, wood heat — other than everything in the fridge spoiling...I'm a lot less worried about Y2K than I was. We got our submachine gun nest all ready, for all those intruders. But seriously, we'll probably get together with the neighbors.

Judge F. Ray Keyser, Chelsea

Retired Vermont Supreme Court Judge

I plan to stay up until 12 because, if I make it that far, I will have lived in three centuries. Not three generations — three centuries.

Daniel Noel, Montpelier

Professor, Vermont College

I shot my wad in Cornwall [England] in August, for the last eclipse of the millennium. We stood on top of a 4000-year-old hill fort, overlooking the whole Lands End area... The weather was terrible, but it was still stunning. One Cornish guy said, "You can't have a proper Cornish mystical experience if it's sunny, now, can you?" We got into it. Suddenly it got very black, at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, in the morning. It was really quite stirring. It was spookier because everybody knew what a normal eclipse would look like, but we didn't know what would happen with all those clouds. There were neo-pagan warriors and gothic yuppies. Someone had a penny-whistle. I've been invited to go back there for New Years, by a documentary filmmaker working on a film about alien abductions. So I may be on a string of standing stones waiting for a spaceship. I don't know. But I am ready... We are all walking clueless into the unknown, the first night of a thousand years.

Yolanda, Burlington

Drag queen

I am going to be running through the streets naked with a strap-on dildo in Montreal. I don't know if you've seen my show lately, but I have a foam bodysuit that makes me look like an hourglass — with big, big tits and huge butt. It is like a soft sculpture. I am going to wear that, some long, elbow-length gloves, and be really pretty. I figure, you know, Montrealers need a little something — a taste of me.

Chip Stone, Charlotte

Senior vice president, Chittenden Bank

We don't have firm plans yet, but in past years we have hiked up Camel's Hump and spent the night up there. We are contemplating doing that again — being the last ones up for the last millennium and the first ones up for the new. It's quiet, its peaceful. It is great fun and good cheer until about 7:30, when you go to bed and hopefully sleep through until sunrise. We stop at the Long Trail hut, unload our packs, and then go to the summit and return to the hut for the night. In the morning, after breakfast, we head back for the summit. It can be mighty darn cold up there.

Bryan Pfeiffer, Plainfield

Birder and writer

I will be in bed at nine o'clock, like I am every night.And one reason is that I will wake up early on the first and count birds. I'll probably get up really early and do a little owling... I used to go bowling on New Year's Eve. Twin City Lanes in Barre. They turn off the lights in the alley and just light up the pins. You bowl all night for eight bucks. Just before midnight they come to every lane with a bag full of noisemakers and party hats, plastic champagne glasses and cheap bottles of champagne. It was great. I think they still do it.

Stephen Doll, Burlington

Art dealer, Doll-Anstadt Gallery

I want to be in bed when it happens, in my king-size bed, just kind of quietly thinking about the momentous occasion of entering a whole new millennium. When you think about it, it is just so grand. I just want to be alone, and quiet, so I can think about it — not in the middle of all these screaming people.

Alex Chirelstein, Burlington

Director, Very Special Arts Vermont

I am going to Paris, with my fiancee. We have already made dinner reservations at a small restaurant in Montparnasse. We are going to go to the big fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower, walk along the Seine — various romantic things like that. My college roommate and his wife live in Paris. Otherwise we'd be spending it in Passaic.

Joanna Rankin, Burlington


I'll probably do First Night until 11 or so — it depends how cold it is. But I am not committed to the fireworks. I can't get too excited about a new millennium, because the telling of time is completely conventional. When Catholic Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar in the year 1582, it skipped 11 days. There had been too many leap years since Julius Caesar, about 16 centuries earlier, -frhich put spring out of phase with the year. The Catholic Church was all bent out of shape about it, because of Easter... The Gregorian calendar was slow to be adopted. Countries did not on agree on what day it was — that was the exception rather than the rule for a long, long time. In 1908, for example, the Russian Imperial Olympic team arrived in London 12 days too late for the games.

Beth Haggart, Burlington


Our street has a Y2K group. We have been meeting for months — since January — so I guess we are going to have a party, with lots of extra cans of tuna and bottled water... Probably everybody will be at somebody's house. We'll all be ready with flashlights and everything. Nothing will happen, but we'll be ready for anything. The group itself is so cool. We have parties every month. We all know each other. We are super-good friends. It's a really nice neighborhood now. We've all been to each others houses and eaten each other's food. More people should have gotten together, because it's been great fun. We might even have a big bonfire, with all the wood we don't have to use.

Tammy Fletcher, Eden


In the early part of the day I am playing at a church — I don't know where the hell it is yet — for First Night. In the evening I am going to be at Shelburne Farms for that big private gala. Phil and Linda Drumheller booked the place a couple years ago — it's where they wanted to have the millennium party of the century. Everybody keeps telling me it's the event to be at. Like, if you are going to have something to do, go big.

Pascal Spengemann, Burlington

Curator, Firehouse Center for the Visual Art

I'm not going to be in Burlington — I'm going to be at Phish. It's the farthest I've gone yet for New Year's Eve. This year will be really fun because we'll have a huge spectacle to accompany it. The last five years I've gone to Toast to see The Pants, and it was always very good. I'm going to miss that

Dottie Tuttle, Tunbridge

Wife of Fred

Usually we just stay home, watch TV and go to bed like any other night. When you get up our age, it's all the same.

Howard Frank Mosher, Irasburg


I am doing the same thing I do every other night, and New Years — working on my new novel.

Cheryl Hanna, South Royalton

Law professor and VPR commentator

I am going to a ball in San Francisco, and I was not going to wait to get a date. I called my girlfriend and said, "Its the turn of the century, Cinderella — it's time to go to the ball.”

Jessica Oski, Burlington

Burlington assistant city attorney

A lot of people I know are going to Florida, but I'm supposed to be present at the Burlington Emergency Operation Center, located at the Burlington Police Station, in the event of any Y2K emergency. All department heads are supposed to be there. The mayor, obviously. I think we are going to have Sprite and cookies. Can you imagine if there are 40,000 people in the city, and all the electricity goes out? We have already done our disaster preparedness dry run and proved we have the capacity to fire up enough power to get people out of the city, to run the hospital — right here in Burlington. At 12:30, once we have determined there is no emergency, I will be released from duty. Then I'll either go out and party with all my friends at Burlington Electric, or go home, get a good nights sleep and feel sorry for myself for being so successful.