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 Sinclairification by Grant Sinclair

New Year's Eve 2008/2009

03 Feb 2009

Now that we’ve all settled back into our regular, non-holiday schedules, going through our days with nothing much to look forward to other than the coming of Spring, I decided now would be as good a time as any to post the New Year’s Eve blog.  You know, nearly a month after the fact.

Because really, once the New Year has begun, unless you have a birthday in the first three months of the year, what is there to look forward to?  The Super Bowl, sure, but aside from that, what? Valentine’s Day?  Maybe.  It’s too much of a manufactured holiday for my taste, unlike New ThanX-Mas™, which is totally authentic.

Maybe you would enjoy the first quarter of the year if you looked forward to St. Patrick’s Day, for some reason.

Granted, if you live in a place where it snows, you can have all sorts of winter snow fun; snowmen, skiing, sledding, snowball fights and hot cocoa.  Good times.

But not for us.  We live in Georgia.  It don’t snow here, it stays pretty green.  It gets dark and cold, but that’s all.  Snow is nature’s reward for cold weather.  It’s fun to play in and nice to look at, until it’s been on the ground too long, when it gets gray and ungly and full of tiny rocks from the street.  But up until then it’s nice.

On to the story!

New Year’s Eve 2008/2009

Before I begin talking about this past New Year’s Eve, it would make sense to explain what the event means to me, as well as a really, really cool tradition I have mantained over the years.

One late December – I think it was 1996 – I realized I had spent New Year’s Eve in four different cities in as many years.  It was then that a tradition was created.  I decided to spend New Year’s Eve in a different location each year.  I have kept this going for 16 years.  Here is the list:

1993-1994: Williamsville, New York, USA (suburb of Buffalo)
1994-1995: Clinton, New Jersey, USA
1995-1996: New York, New York, USA (Madison Square Garden, Phish concert: Manhattan)
1996-1997: Boston, Massachusetts, USA (Fleet Center, Phish concert)
1997-1998: Atlanta, Georgia, USA (Five Points)
1998-1999: Key West, Florida, USA (Corner of Duval and Green Streets in front of Sloppy Joe’s)
1999-2000: Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida (Phish concert)
2000-2001: Savannah, Georgia, USA (House party)
2001-2002: Athens, Georgia, USA (No where in particular)
2002-2003: Seoul, South Korea (Downtown, bell-ringing celebration)
2003-2004: Miami, Florida (American Airlines Arena, Phish concert)
2004-2005: New Orleans, Louisiana (Near Jax Brewery)
2005-2006: Merida, Yucatan, Mexico (No where in particular; El Viejo)
2006-2007: Dahlonega, Georgia, USA (Some crappy bar)
2007-2008: Jacksonville, Florida, USA (started at Jacksonville Landing, then moved across the bridge to the other side of the river by Midnight)

For the complete New Year’s Eve document, as well as the rules, click here.

On New Year’s Eve 2008 I found myself in Charleston, South Carolina.  Why Charleston?  Because I hadn’t used it yet and it was within driving distance of Atlanta.  Really, that’s all I need.  Also, due to my current job situation, I need to work the days before AND after a holiday to get paid for said holiday.  Believe it or not, Get Out the Map is not the cash cow you’d think it is – yet.

My girlfriend and I jumped in the car, late afternoon on the last day of 2008 and headed for the coast of Carolina.  We didn’t really know what we were going to find in Charleston, but we were certain it was going to be fun.  After all, Charelston is a cool town, right?  They were sure to have some great public New Year’s Eve party or something.

That’s what I look for in a good New Year’s Eve event.  Lots of people together, watching the big whatever drop, counting down to the new year, then kissing, hugging and high-fiving each other, as though we are somehow responsible for allowing the inevitable, unstoppable march of time.  Good work, everyone!

I did some preliminary research on New Year’s Eve in Charleston, but found nothing conclusive.  Surely I must be missing something obvious; I just didn’t know how to find what I needed.  Nevertheless, I was excited about New Year’s Eve in a different city, so we jumped in the car and off we went!

There is something liberating about leaving work early, even if you have to make up the time later.  Even if you use that time foolishly, it is still your time.  Besides, who is going to tell you not to sit around in your undewear and eat cheese curls out of your belly button?  Aside from the other people on the bus, I mean.

As we headed down the highway, Cathy at the wheel, I enjoyed the sights of the American highway.  It had been so long since I took a road trip, I almost forgot what it felt like.  It was refreshing, to say the least.  I really should get out more.

While we drove, we still didn’t know where we were headed.  Charleston, sure, but to which New Year’s Eve event?  I called the hotel to ask about the final Charleston happenings for 2008.  After hearing a few options, most of which were expensive, Cathy and I agreed that the most fun event would be the block party at Marion Square.  Even if there were a cover charge, it would still be fun to be outside with other people ringing in 2009.

We arrived at the hotel with little time to spare if we were going to make it to Marion Square (probably named after Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox,” Cathy pointed out, ever the US History geek) before the party was over.  We then found out it was an hour wait for a taxi from the hotel in to Charleston.  We didn’t want to drive, but it looked like we had no choice.  It was about 10:40 and we didn’t really know how far the Square was from the hotel.  Granted, we didn’t want to deal with traffic, expensive parking, drunk drivers and the general foolishness that comes with driving into a crowded, popular area, but it looked like we didn’t have a choice.

We got directions at the front desk and headed toward the party.  What we found next was indeed  unexpected.

I have attended my fair share of big events – I’m sure you have, too – and they have many things in common.  Whether it’s a concert, sporting event, Mardi Gras, Freaknic or anything dealing with a whole lot of people getting together for some celebration, you usually see the following things:

- Crowds of people
- Traffic
- Police presence
- Noise, loud music, etcetera

When we drove in to Charleston, we saw, remarkably, none of those things.  We actually checked the map a few times to make sure we were in the right place.  Even then we weren’t sure, so Cathy dropped me off on the street while she went to park the car.

I walked into Marion Square and there was no one there. I don’t mean that as a figure of speech, as in “there weren’t that many people there,” no, really, there was NO ONE there.  I did stop a guy walking his dog and asked if I was, in fact, in Marion Square.

“Yeah, this is it,” he said.
“The site of the big New Year’s party?” I asked.
“I…think so,” he said, looking around.  Even the dog looked confused.  From the looks of things, it may as well have been January 5.

I did say no one was there, but that’s not the entire truth,  There was one guy, standing on a stage, wrapping up some cable.  There were also three or four other guys, driving around in a Gator, picking up tables from empty tents.  They were obviously cleaning up from something, but it was well before Midnight.  What was this?  Before too long I found a guy wearing a walkie talkie.  He may know something about this.

“Is this Marion Square?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Isn’t there supposed to be a block party or something?”
“Oh, our New Year’s party ends at 10:30,” he said, matter-of-factly.  “Everyone knows that”.  Dude, not everyone.

Apparently the folks in Charleston decide to ring in the new year a full 90 minutes before the new year.  How does that countdown go?  “3…2…1…Happy 10:30!”

Then we had a new predicament.  If the big Charleston New Year’s Eve party was already over, where would we go?  Was there another, chronologically correct New Year’s Eve party happening in Charleston?  If so, could we make it there?  Could we even find it?  What the hell kind of organization was this?

Cathy and I decided to try our luck on the street.  After all, we were traveling light.  No backpacks or camera bags and I only had my SLR over my shoulder with the 17-85 mount.  No tripod, flash or other lenses, though I did bring extra flash cards and batteries.

We went to the gas station across the street to ask about any other, actual events that might be going on in the waning hour of the year.  After all, it was past 10:30 and, at this point, nearly 11:00.  We were told we had two choices:  Walk three blocks this way or six blocks the other way.

Because three is fewer than six, we headed down King Street.  It should be noted that at this point, we were very hungry.  All we wanted was a place to sit, have a beer and some dinner and ring in 2009, unless a better party presented itself.

Our first encounter was the Mexican/Jewish sounding restaurant Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale.  It looked promising enough, particularly with a sign which read “World Famous Margaritas” on the window above the front door.  I wanted to react like Will Ferrell in Elf when he discovers the diner with “The World’s Best Cup of Coffee,” though the fine folks at Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale had probably seen that gag too many times.

We walked in, asked to see the menu, were told the kitchen was closed, then turned and left.  We ventured farther down King street looking for some promise of a party, but all we found were crowded night clubs, queues of people eager to pay a high cover charge and a bouncer with pinkeye.

I want to talk about this bouncer for a second.  First, I didn’t know he had pinkeye before I asked him a question.  Second, I’m not a doctor, so I’m not sure it was pinkeye; it could have been something else, like a bad contact lens or a stray eyelash, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

What was funny was, I asked him a question about other places to go for the rest of the year.  When he turned to talk to me, I saw his eye and backed up a few steps.  But when he spoke, the other bouncer opened the door of the club to let people in, so Pinkeye the Bouncer had to get closer to me to speak, as the noise from the club drowned out his voice.  It looked like we were boxing and I was dodging his punches, because this happened a few times.

The thing is, Pinkeye the Bouncer was a really, really nice and helpful guy, who was giving us quite a few options of places to try, so I felt kind of bad avoiding him.  Not bad enough to risk catching pinkeye, though.

So on down King Street we went, encountering the same scenario at each bar, restaurant or club.  By which I mean crowded establishments, no food and a high cover charge, not that every place we tried had a bouncer with pink eye.  I don’t want to give the impression that the food and drink establishments in Charleston have a bouncer population with rampant pink eye – at least, as far as I know.  Again, I’m not a doctor.

At one point during our trek we were told the cover was $20.  Per person.
“Wow,” I said in disbelief.
“You’re not going to find a better deal tonight!” the bouncer barked at me as I sulked away, girlfriend in tow.  That, to me was a dare.  Oh I’m not, am I?  We’ll see!  Truth be told, he had a point.  “Tonight” was quickly turning into “next year” and we still had no luck.  Finally, I turned to Cathy.
“What do you want to do?  We’re running out of time – what is the time?”
“Right.  We have two choices.  We could go back to Juanita Greenberg’s, get a couple beers and ring in the new year there, or we could try to walk the six – no, wait – now nine blocks to Market Street.”
“I say we go for it.”
There should be no doubt why I am with this girl.

We headed off in the vague direction of Market Street, not running, but not walking either.  I turned to Cathy and said, “You do realize that the chances of us finding a place that is open, serving food and with no cover charge all before Midnight is very slim, right?”  I know she knew.
“I know,” she said.  I knew it.

Still, we hurried down the street.  I would have been okay with this if we saw something – anything that looked like we were headed toward something fun, or at least promising.  Instead, we were walking toward tall, dark buildings on empty streets.  Still, no crowd noise, no police directing traffic; really no one to be found, aside from one guy doing coke in a parked car.  We accidentally met eyes.  I hurried Cathy along, keeping my body between him and my camera.  I didn’t try to take a picture, but I didn’t want any trouble.

We finally found Market Street and dashed toward the sounds of civilzation.  We found a restaurant and hurried inside.  The hostess greeted us with a smile.
“Is there a cover charge?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
“Are you serving food?”
“Uh, only if you order in the next ten minutes.”  It was 11:50 PM, 31 December 2008.
“Great, give us a table for two, anywhere.”
She sat us quickly, then the waitress came over in a hurry.
“Okay, you have to order in seven minutes,” she explained.  Oh, God.  Seven minutes!  Was that enough time?  She stayed with us to answer any questions, but really just to remind us that we had seven – no six – minutes to order food.  Come on, Bill! Come on, come on, come ON!

Wait a minute, it’s six minutes, not six seconds.  Settle down, waitress, you’re freaking us out.  We ordered food, then drinks, then sat back, relaxed and looked around.  It was a nice little restaurant called TBONZ Grill and Gill.  There weren’t a lot of people there, but it was a good vibe.  There were a few large screen TVs broadcasting the New Year’s Eve party from Times Square, which, of course, everyone was watching.

When our drinks came, Cathy and I toasted our success in finding, at the very last ten minutes, a place that was open, with no cover charge and still serving food.  I love New Year’s Eve.

When the clock struck 2009, we all cheered, kissed, hugged and high-fived each other, as though we were somehow responsible for allowing the inevitable, unstoppable march of time.  I was just glad we weren’t on the street, lost when the year changed.  If that happened, it would have been like 2009 found us.  This way, it was like we found it, as if this situation was somehow on our terms rather than just luck.  But I guess you take what you can get.

The evening was winding down, but it was not quite finished.  Cathy and I had enjoyed a nice little adventure, a good meal and were getting plenty of excercise when we saw the most peculiar thing.

A man, presumably quite inebriated, was trying to climb over a fence.  Not just any fence, either, but an iron fence with sharp points at the top.  The fence was about shoulder height and separated the courtyard from the sidewalk.

I don’t know about you, but when I see something like this, I stop to watch.  It wasn’t just me, either, because another couple who were walking by did the same thing.  You just have to.  Not because it’s cruel, but because it is entertaining.  Here is a person, who, drunk though he may be, who has the motor skills to walk and presumably dress themselves and they are trying to climb over an iron fence with sharp points on the top.

And he’s trying to straddle it; meaning, he’s going crotch-to-pointy-iron post.

Don’t get the impression that this is someone with great (or even mediocre) athletic ability getting a running start, grabbing the top and pulling themselves over, doing the Fosbury Flop on the sidewalk.  No, this was much, much slower and its entertainment value was equaled only by the curiosity by the onlookers.  It was like watching a snake eat a mouse on a nature show.  You know you shouldn’t watch, but dammit, you just can’t turn away.

I’m sure there is some sort of social responsibility in  a situation like this.  I should have run up to him, offered to help, even maybe pushed him back in to the courtyard.

One of the reasons I didn’t help is because he was already too far over – past the point (sorry) of no return as it were.  It’s not that I didn’t want to help him, I couldn’t.

As I was taking the picture, Cathy was whisper-shouting at me.
“What?” I whispered back.
And she would nod her head towards the guy.  I know, I see the guy.  Then we repeated this again.

After a few minutes of watching this guy get stuck like a dolphin in a tuna net, we decided to get going.  As we did, we heard an audible “rip” coming, I hope, from the guy’s jeans.

As we turned the corner, I had already learned my first lesson/premonition of 2009; when the first thing you see in the new year is some guy nearly tearing his scrotum on an iron fence, you know it’s going to be an interesting twelve months.

“That was pretty funny,” I said to Cathy.
“It sure was, especially since the gate was open.”
“What?” I said, and stopped walking.
“I don’t like to bother you when you are taking pictures, but I tried to get your attention.  You didn’t see the open gate?”
“You’re lying!”
“No, really,” she said with a laugh.
“We’re going back,” I said, and we turned around on the spot.

Our stuck man was long gone and there was no sign of blood (not that I bothered to look real hard) or an emergency medical crew, so I’m guessing he got away okay, but Cathy was right: the gate was wide open. What’s more, there was a shubbery that stopped just short of the fence, which meant a couple things.

1) All the guy had to do was look to his right and he would have seen, a short six feet away from him, was an unobstructed path to an open gate.
2) I had not learned my first lesson of the year when I thought I had.  This was the real lesson:  Before you try and climb an iron fence with very sharp points – be it crotch first or any other way – look for the nearest open gate, no matter how drunk you are.

So ends our New Year’s Eve adventure for 2008/2009.  We don’t have any plans for 2009/2010, but I’m open to suggestions.  I know this is late, but Happy New Year everyone!

© 2009

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