#TBT It’s the End of the World As We Know It (It’s Y2K)

FireworksIt is Y2K minus six hours and change. I am in Washington D.C. at the Newseum, the museum of journalism, with Charles Perkins. The array of video screens shows celebrations on the other side of the world, starting with Fiji and working westward to Sydney, Paris, and all points in between. Each successive fireworks display is more spectacular than the one before.

Tick.

Charlie, Janis Johnston, Karen Rugg and I are at the National Cathedral listening to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Choirs and brass ensembles perform. It is an inspiring evening. When you hear a choir in a cathedral you understand that the architecture is not just about impressing the eye.

Tick.

We are at the U.S. Naval Observatory on a hill overlooking Washington D.C. Underdressed in this crowd means you’re not wearing enough gold braid. We enjoy champagne as we tour one of the country’s two ‘atomic clocks’. It seems so appropriate to be here, the Greenwich of the 21st century. Here time is measured not in degrees, minutes, or seconds, but by the vibration of a Cesium atom.

Tick.

Time is important in navigation. They offer a demonstration of time balls and time cannons. You’ve seen the time ball – every New Year’s Eve in Times Square. The ball and cannon were used to synchronize the chronometers on the sailing ships in harbors. The cannon was fired as the ball was dropping since light travels faster than sound.

Tick.

The fireworks begin. This is a military fireworks display – these are trained professionals and I am fairly certain there is leftover ordinance from the first Gulf War going off over our heads. Below us, down the hill, the fireworks produced by Steven Spielberg on the Mall are interrupted when President Clinton decides to return to the White House early.

Tick.

No one comes running from the observatory screaming anything about Y2K.

We drive home through eerily empty Washington streets. Everyone is stuck at the Mall waiting for the fireworks to resume.

 

 

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