The moment of truth is only a few hours away. It won't be long now until we discover whether all the Y2K hype was, well, just hype. We'll find out if the doomsday militia wackos are less crazy than we think, if computer analysts actually earn their six-figure salaries, and if that unemployed neighbor who stocked up on 100 cases of Natural Lite and Cheez Whiz will suddenly become a close acquaintance.
You've heard the litany of naysayers -- experts claiming the world's computers are pretty much Y2K compliant, anal librarian-types tsk-tsking that the millennium really doesn't end until the clock strikes midnight next year, Bono singing, "Nothing changes on New Year's Day."
Blah, blah, blah. Personally, I'm excited about Friday's blowout. You've got to love a holiday that has people predicting the end of the world. Now that's a party!
This soiree promises a little something for everyone. Survivalists can hang in their bunkers. Civil servants -- roughly one-half the workforce in this town's "new" economy -- will collect triple pay waiting for pipes to explode. And underage drinkers everywhere will learn that, while champagne tickles the nose going in, it downright burns coming out.
Sure, some people are warning about impending calamity -- ATMs rendered useless, jets crashing into the seas, Christ showing up in Jerusalem to ring in the new millennium and punish us for leaving the toilet seat up. But that's strictly a "glass-is-half-empty" worldview, ignoring all the potential benefits.
I plan on spending the waning hours of December 31 and first moments of January 1 perched on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, a six-pack of Rolling Rock tucked under my arm, awaiting the apocalypse. In a sick, twisted way, I'm looking forward to my solitary tour of duty up above the Cuyahoga. Because if this sucker really happens, I'll have the best seat in town for a long-overdue, king-size housecleaning.
As Jack Nicholson's Joker put it in the first Batman extravaganza, "This town needs an enema." Here's how the scenario will play out:
The problems begin on Public Square, when a malfunctioning computer screws up those 60-billion-watt red and green spotlights that make the Terminal Tower look like a phallus with a burning case of the clap. The light troubles spark an electrical fire that engulfs Tower City -- a shame, but every great purge has a few innocent victims. Meanwhile, teenyboppers in the Flats remain oblivious, fiddling to Blink 182 while Cleveland burns.
The blaze spreads to the BP Building, which, like most abandoned buildings, goes up in minutes. But who will really miss the Beepster? The namesake corporation was a shadow presence in this town long before they picked up their toys and went to Chicago. This just opens up some prime downtown real estate for Al Lerner to build a new MBNA Tower.
(One week later, Mayor Mike White promises Lerner's new skyscraper will be built "on time and on budget," with Big Dawg John Thompson overseeing construction and best pal Nate Gray in charge of parking.)
Panicked 911 operators -- swamped by computer problems, a lightning-induced electrical surge, and 40,000 calls in a five-minute span -- have difficulty reaching the Cleveland Fire Department. Winds off Lake Erie push the blaze south, while terrified citizens surge down Ninth Street in a living reenactment of the Who's Cincinnati concert, trampling people in a mad rush toward the lake.
By 12:30 a.m. the shivering masses from Public Square have taken over the Rock Hall. It's the perfect emergency shelter -- big, roomy, and completely empty 362 days of the year. One well-traveled partyer is so wasted he remarks on the beauty of the Louvre, but the majority of his more parochial counterparts are content simply knowing that they've made it to the Rock Hall before it closes in two years.
Mayor White -- firmly ensconced, high above the calamity, in Sam Miller's bunker -- is having trouble figuring out his course of action. The phones are down, the police and fire department are out of reach, and federal law enforcement types are busy exploring the link between the Klan rally and the would-be South High massacre. He tries to reach the city law department -- until an aide helpfully reminds him it no longer exists.
Meanwhile, the collective heart rate of suburban yups skips a few beats as the sprinkler system beneath Jacobs Field ruptures, sending the entire stadium collapsing into a chasm 20 feet deep. While this means Clevelanders have seen the last of Mrs. Chuck Finley (though we've still got those Whitesnake videos), the Tribe's biggest problem is no longer a search for a number-one starter. New owner Larry Dolan immediately announces he plans to ask the county for a $500 million levy to pay for a new baseball field, to be known as Viacom Park.
(In the campaign for the levy the following spring, Mayor White promises the new park will be built "on time and on budget." In a unique deal to supplement his meager $3 million salary, Omar Vizquel is tapped as construction supervisor, with Nate Gray in charge of parking.)
Of course, the trouble isn't restricted to downtown. A series of Continental jets, including one flying in from London, experience computer problems and are forced to make emergency crash landings at Hopkins. One plows into the I-X Center, completely destroying the structure. Brook Park Mayor Tom Coyne promises a full investigation into rumors that the plane was flown by Ports Director Solomon Balraj, who was actually on a kamikaze raid engineered by the White Administration.
As the sun rises on January 1, the fire has finally been brought under control, and most of the electrical, phone, and computer problems are being worked out. Aside from losing the Terminal Tower, BP Building, and Jacobs Field, things aren't so grim. The Rock Hall has seen a surge in attendance, and White, at a packed news conference, gleefully notes that the accident at the I-X Center just happens to clear the way for the proposed expansion at Hopkins.
That expansion, he promises, will begin next month. And it will be on time and on budget.
Mike Tobin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.