World enters brand-new era quietly
It was a scream heard around the world, but it wasn’t the
scream the world had expected at the dawn of 2000.
When all the machines seemed to work perfectly, global crisis
management officials were reduced – or elevated, perhaps – to
talking about the first bouncing baby boy born at 12:15 a.m. local
time on the island of Guam.
The newest human life on U.S. soil reminded Guam and the
waiting world that the wonders of the flesh still trump the
mysteries of the megabyte, from the South Pacific to the South
“The mother and baby are doing fine,” said a bemused U.S. Y2K
czar John Koskinen to an international television audience, after
first announcing that a worldwide “scouring” for disasters related
to the year 2000 changeover had turned up a handful of items that
wouldn’t make the front page of a kindergarten newsletter.
And wherever people gathered – as midnight moved from
Australia west to Alaska – it was rarely hard to find a tether
linking them back to Colorado. Reaching these people almost
instantly by telephone was a measure of just how interconnected
the world had become.
“Good changeover!” said Mark Vollmer, formerly of Louisville
in Boulder County, now living north of Sydney, Australia. Vollmer
and his family were among the world’s first to experience 1999
becoming 2000 and see that their preparations – extra fuel for
their barbecue – weren’t immediately necessary.
The Vollmers watched Sydney’s $3.5 million fireworks display
on television and played in a field behind their house with
“We seemed to whiz right along,” Vollmer said before finally
going to bed.
As the new millennium finally reached Denver hours later,
Marshall Emm sat down in front of his ham radio and sent midnight
greetings by the old fashioned method of a telegraph key, the New
Year’s Eve tradition of U.S. amateur radio fans. Tapping away with
one of the oldest forms of worldwide communication, Emm learned
that the newest forms of worldwide communication were still
working just fine.
New York City cops mugged for ubiquitous TV cameras and kept
their riot batons holstered.
The decided lack of global glitches served to pump up the
volume at street and harbor parties from Sydney to Giza, Egypt.
Russians added an extra toast to their parties when longtime
President Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation in favor of new
blood for the next millennium, and dancers in New Delhi seemed to
bounce a little higher when worries about a hijacked Indian
Airlines plane dissipated with the passengers’ safe release.
Fireworks flashed and crackled worldwide – and electric
lights still glowed – as hundreds of millions of people celebrated
a new century.
“The infrastructure is holding,” said Lisa Pellegrin,
spokeswoman for the International Y2K Cooperation Center in
Washington, where United Nations-funded technicians are monitoring
conditions in 106 countries.
Celebration was relative, of course, with a fourth of
humanity struggling to survive, according to a new United Nations
report, on less than $1 a day.
“Here we can’t talk about fireworks,” said Father Gaston
Muyombo, formerly of central Denver’s Saint Louis Parish, now
serving people in Central Africa’s war-torn Congo.
“What we are doing here is just a matter of survival,”
For those who could celebrate, among the happiest were
In Mexico, Karina Azanza Morales, Colorado’s trade
representative, drove from her office in Guadalajara to join her
parents and other relatives at the family home in Leon. They
feasted Friday night and rejoiced at recent birth of a niece. Then
they broke out the grapes. During each of the last 12 seconds of
1999, they ate one grape, until the final moment. “A Mexican
tradition,” Karina explained. “For good luck.”
In Moscow, school principal Tatiana Yurovskaia waited to hear
from her son in San Francisco. They’d toured Colorado together,
staying in the mountains, but now were depending on telephone
connections. And when the phone rang, the news was amazing. “He
asked me, “What is going on?'” Yurovskaia said. “I said, “I have
no idea.’ He told me: “The Russian president resigned.’ I’d heard
nothing. There was nothing on television. Later I heard a radio
report. I learned about Russia’s president resigning from California!”
In the Middle East, former Denver resident Arlynn Nellhaus
drove her white sedan through Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. A
few Christians awaited midnight there watching for Jesus Christ.
Yet political fervor over the possible return of Golan Heights
land to Syria overshadowed the move from one century to the next,
Nellhaus said. “We’re so involved in political stuff here that we
can hardly think about it.”
On the shores of the winter pack ice at Hudson’s Bay, Canada,
the town famous for dancing with polar bears worried far more
about a blizzard than any Y2K shocks. On Christmas Day, Churchill
Mayor Michael Spence reported, the icy town of 1,200 suffered 80
mph winds and evacuated 200 people to the town hall.
For New Year’s Eve, everyone fired up their snowmobiles and
went back to the town center for an all-night party, with
musicians brought in on the railroad – owned by a Denver-based
company – since there’s no road to get there.
In the United States, widespread partying was tempered
somewhat by duty and sheer exhaustion. Millions like Bryan Sanchez
worked overtime on millennial preparedness. Sanchez runs a north
Denver baking factory that is part of a worldwide network
supplying hamburger buns to McDonald’s. Early in the day, he
checked the company voice mail and heard messages from Japan to
Italy to Florida that buns were still flying off the global conveyors.
After midnight, Sanchez drove his newly washed Chrysler down
to the Denver plant to flick on the lights and machines to make
sure everything worked. Since there were no problems elsewhere in
the world, the extra buns in the Denver freezer wouldn’t be needed
as a global backup.
In some countries, leaders downplayed celebrations.
In Caracas, Venezuela, one woman was simply too sad to
celebrate. Displaced by recent mudslides, which claimed more than
30,000 lives, she encountered Dan Spicer, a Denver-based
lawyer-turned-relief workers, outside the Hilton Hotel.
She gazed at him in total dismay, Spicer said. “It’s not
important to celebrate the millennium,” she told him, “when so
many poor people are suffering here.”
All day Friday, encouraging reports bolstered faith in
And in Senegal, Dr. Khalifa Cisse, in Bargny on the outskirts
of Dakar, figured computers will be crucial for Africa’s future.
“New modern technology can help us to satisfy our needs and to
develop our knowledge and try to increase our position in life,”
At the same time, people everywhere also voiced anxieties
that technology and a technological way of living threaten
humanity and nature in the 21st century.
In affluent Western societies, “even human beings have become
machines,” said Naseem Seher, 65, in Lahore, Pakistan. Her son
Masood runs a Concordia trekking business out of Buena Vista, and
she enjoys the United States when she visits each year. But
Westerners will have to acknowledge “a different approach towards
life” that she sees as stronger in non-Western societies – one
that emphasizes “the human touch, the human being.”
Visiting her grandmother in high-tech Shanghai, China,
University of Colorado engineering graduate student Bi Xu, 24,
gazed up at new shiny skyscrapers – more glass and steel closer
and taller than anything she’s seen in the United States.
China’s booming financial capital feels “scary … too
modernized,” Xu said. Yet opportunities abound there, and Xu
figured her career – like her family – will straddle Colorado and
China. Nature is dying, warned Israeli scientist Reuven Yosef,
along the Red Sea near Elat, where he’s restoring habitat for
migrating birds. Yosef was in Colorado last year seeking funding
for his project; he’d helped with conversion of the Rocky Mountain
Arsenal to an urban wildlife refuge. “We must have our environment
intact for humans to survive,” Yosef said before climbing a desert
mountain to welcome the new century with his wife.
Hopes remained high nonetheless.
“Maybe this next century can start with more peaceful
attitudes,” Dr. Andrey Vasiliev said in St. Petersburg, Russia,
before heading to a park with his wife, children and a stash of
Chinese fireworks. “I would suppose we can be assured of another