How Optimism Saved My New Year’s Eve

My dad had planned and booked a trip to New York City months in advance. Yet, in the weeks leading up to it, our trip seemed to become less likely. We repeatedly questioned whether it was wise to travel to NYC during New Year’s in light of recent events. After all, the last few months have been tense around the globe, and a degree of risk — low, albeit present nonetheless — always accompanies high-profile destinations (no less during a holiday such as New Year’s). I’ll have you know I was 100% willing and enthusiastic about traveling to the Big Apple for New Year’s. My family, however, was not so convinced. After weeks of deliberation here and there, we eventually decided to go for it.

Attending the Ball Drop at Times Square was out of the question. “Why camp out for hours in freezing temperatures only to be packed like sardines among thousands of obnoxious and intoxicated party animals?” That wasn’t going to happen. Instead, my dad reserved tickets for a midnight cruise that would travel along the Hudson River, offering spectacular views of both the Manhattan skyline as well as the many firework displays heralding the arrival of a new year.

Fast forward to 8:40 PM on New Year’s Eve. After a hearty meal, my family and I took an Über to the pier. Boarding was to begin at 9 PM, and we arrived precisely then. As a reward for our punctuality, we were greeted with a line containing several hundred people, all eager to escape arctic gusts of wind in favor of warm hors d’oeuvres, delicious cocktails, and a climate-controlled cruise. One boat filled up and left. Another arrived and filled up as well. Braving harsh temperatures and a fierce wind chill, the other patrons, my family, and I slowly inched our way forward. But before long, the line stopped moving.

10 minutes passed.

20 minutes passed.

40 minutes passed.

People began to complain about the cold and step outside of line in search of an employee — there were none outdoors chaperoning the line. With the second boat fully occupied but still tethered to the dock after all this time, several customers — irritated, cold, and out of patience — marched into the building, demanding answers from the meager handful of employees. They received vague and empty “answers,” and relayed them to the rest of the line.

More time passed. Frustrations mounted. And then, a disconcerting surprise. Four fully suited and armed agents from the Department of Homeland Security marched onto the pier and into the building. Some of us looked on in bewilderment. Others rolled their eyes. But before rumors and panic could take wing, the agents made an underwhelming announcement, one that we had begun to suspect: the cruise was vastly overbooked. The website(s) let hundreds of people purchase tickets without any cap whatsoever. Those of us not on the first two boats weren’t going anywhere, and our “non-refundable” tickets would be refunded. In an act of unmitigated cowardice, the employees at the pier vanished and called law enforcement — the Department of Homeland Security, no less — to deliver this news. After 90 minutes of frigid anticipation, about 300 people (mostly tourists) were left without New Year’s plans…in New York City…at 10:30 PM.

On the ride back to our hotel, my family and I cracked jokes and laughed at our own misfortune. It was now 11:15 PM. We slouched in our room, on the verge of defeat, still laughing and ranting about the sheer stupidity of it all. Here we were, in New York City, with 45 minutes to spare before the new year and no way to celebrate its arrival. (Needless to say, other alternatives were either sold out or prohibitively expensive for a family of four this late in the game.) I offered that we could walk to Central Park — a short distance from our hotel in midtown Manhattan — to watch the fireworks there. At 11:25 PM, we stumbled out of our hotel and back into the frosty city that awaited us.

Police officers everywhere. Thousands of pedestrians. Food trucks. Street vendors. 15 minutes to go and the streets were jam-packed. We started walking west; although Central Park was north of us, I wanted to see how close we could get to the Ball Drop. There were police-manned barricades on every street. 10 minutes to go. While walking down one street, we noticed a giant crowd in front of us, dotted with hundreds of cameras and cell phone screens. What could they be looking at? And where was the police barricade? Ignoring the instructions of New York’s finest, the mob of people encompassing my family rushed forwards. And then we saw it: an unobstructed view of Times Square, with the countdown and ball drop to boot!

This was it! 4 minutes to go. But the mob behind us wasn’t satisfied. Trapped on all sides, imprisoned by 360 degrees of other people, we were launched forward, utterly powerless against the forces pushing us here and there. We were propelled under a cordon. In front of us, police officers manned a barricade separating us latecomers from those who had camped out hours earlier. With 3 minutes to spare and squished together in a sea of people, we looked up to Times Square, knowing we wouldn’t advance any further.

And then, the inexplicable happened. The police opened the barricade! A handful of people rushed through. I yelled to my family, “Come on! Follow me and stay close!” Somehow, some way, I made it through. But before most people could even realize the barricade was open — with so many people it was extremely difficult to see in front of you — the police closed the barricade again. My mom and sister were too late, but an officer let them through after my mom exclaimed, “My husband and son are there!!!” We quickly regrouped as the barrier shut behind us for good. Ahead of us, a shockingly large amount of space on the road and a full view of Times Square.

At 11:58 PM, there we stood, a mere six blocks (about a quarter mile) from Times Square. We were comfortable! Beyond the barricade, there was space aplenty. Incredulous with disbelief, we counted down and cheered the arrival of 2016. Fireworks from Times Square in front of us. Fireworks from Central Park behind us. And all I could think was, “How did we pull this off?”

There are a million reasons this never should have happened. In another universe, my family and I never went on this trip. In another, we made it onto our midnight cruise. In another, we walked north instead of west. In another, we never made it under the cordon. And in another, the police-manned barricade never opened. What do I make of all this? For one, I get to tell a story that begins with uncertainty, evolves into frustration and misfortune, and yet resolves with a happy ending. But we didn’t pull this miraculous roller-coaster of a night from thin air. Rather, our decisions — whether big like the decision to travel in the first place, or small like the decision to walk west instead of north — were guided by a simple paradigm: optimism. By remaining optimistic at every turn, we transformed lousy circumstances into a lucky and unforgettable night.

My family and I were meant to celebrate New Year’s watching the ball drop. I’m certain of it. Through an unexpected sequence of events, we ended up floating in an ocean of one million people, ringing in the new year at the one place we swore we wouldn’t be. So for some mysterious reason, we were supposed to be there. And that’s a beautiful realization to behold.

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