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Remembering The Y2K New Year's Aesthetic in Las Vegas

By Realizingresonance @RealizResonance

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Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

It was a long boring drive, though the dessert was actually quite beautiful in its own way. The setting sun cast a red glow over the rocks, grooved, striated, and painted by time. Unfortunately, unless one is a geologist or an artist, it is only beautiful for about the first hour. Greg and I were neither, so the last four hours of the drive were not filled with appreciation of the landscape, but anticipation for the night to come. We were headed east on Interstate 15, and our destination was the place where everything that happens there is supposed to stay there. This is a story that escaped Las Vegas.

Four hours later we were out of Greg’s Toyota Tacoma and only five hours away from the end of the world. Las Vegas was overflowing with people who had come to celebrate the end the millennium and the start of a new one. Even in the parking garage of the MGM Grand, we had to wait in line to get to the escalator. Our pace was hampered even more when we reached the casino floor and found that the throng had multiplied.

Wandering through a crowd of revelers, we saw three piece suits, elegant gowns, and even a person wearing a penguin suit complete with a party hat. Glitter on faces and cleavage was so common that the trend could have been listed as a tip in a fashion magazine article titled something like, “What to Wear for Y2K,” or “Styles for the New Millennium.” Greg and I felt underdressed by comparison. He wore light khaki corduroys, slightly sagging, a white button up shirt, and a small glass orb clenched by a pewter dragon’s claw dangling from a necklace of hemp around his neck. His long black hair was tied back in a ponytail and a well-groomed goatee adorned his Hispanic features. I, on the other hand, was cleanly shaven, and even more simply dressed, with just a maroon fleece, blue jeans, and a backwards facing baseball cap.

Creeping along at the pace of dripping molasses, we made our way from the casino floor to the front of the MGM Grand. Once we were outside on the Vegas strip, the crowd had more room to move and we were able to walk a bit faster. Barriers had been placed halfway into the first lane on both sides of the street, giving the pedestrians more sidewalk space for accommodation. Even though we had both been to Las Vegas before, it was still hard to digest it all in one trip; New York, Paris, Venice, Egypt, and even medieval Europe were just a few of the places that had been crammed onto this one street. Of course, the original had nothing on their miniature counterparts when it came to flashing neon lights.

Dress was not the only thing that separated Greg and I from the rest of the revelers. Any given member of the crowd could have named at least three cocktails that they had consumed already by this point in the evening. Both of us seemed to realize this at once, so in an effort to become contributing members to the chaos brewing around us, Greg pointed out a Budweiser vendor stationed on the sidewalk across the street. The beer cart was in front of The Boardwalk Casino, and it took us a good amount of time to travel the short distance. When we finally did buy our drinks, we both agreed that they were well worth the wait. Eight dollars bought a fifty-two ounce yard of beer, a perfect size for strolling down the stip.

Several drinks later we had built up an appetite, so I suggested that we stop in at the Flamingo Hilton for a bite to eat and some gambling. After sucking down some pizza, I stood by and watched as Greg lost $60 at craps. But this gave me a chance to photograph the police as they tackled and arrested two men who had broke into a fist fight at the roulette table next to us. By this time it was nearing nine o’clock, and every television in the casino was tuned in to the party in Times Square. When it came time for the revelers in New York City to begin their countdown to midnight, the entire casino joined in with such enthusiasm that anyone without a watch or a sense of time might have mistaken the sympathetic countdown as the real midnight in Vegas. The look that Greg and I exchanged at this point was one that conveyed equal appreciation for the fact that we still had three hours left until the real countdown. With the crowd this wild already, we had no idea how crazy it was going to get later on.

Once we were back out on the strip again, I took out my camera. I took photos of police in riot gear, setting up barricades in the center of the street. I took photos of Connie Chung televising the party live to the chants of, “Connie! Connie! Connie!” from a group of loyal fans. I took pictures of Greg consuming his yard of beer in front of Bally’s, the Monte Carlo, The Bellagio, and Caesar’s Palace. I took photos of a troupe of daredevils scaling the miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower in front of Paris. Then, as we were crossing the street I caught sight of what I knew would be my most memorable photograph of the night.

Stopping in the middle of the intersection, I asked Greg to hold my yard of beer as I tried to line up the perfect shot for my photo opportunity. My target was a small group of religious fanatics carrying large painted signs that proclaimed the imminent end of the world and damnation for all sinners. But the shot eluded me. Before I could push the button on my camera, the light turned green while we were still standing in the intersection. This prompted several honks from the cars that wishing to go, and drew the attention of one of the religious fanatics. He was a large Samoan man with a bullhorn. His eyes locked on Greg, who was standing in the middle of the street blocking traffic, holding a yard of beer in each hand.

“You are going to get hit by a car and die!” he shouted through the bullhorn as Greg and I finished crossing the street. “What will you tell God when you die? What will you tell God? Are you going to tell God that a car hit you when you were in Las Vegas, while drinking two beers? No way you’re going to heaven tonight! What will you tell God?!”

For a moment Greg was taken aback by this unexpected onslaught of moral criticism. Then he regained his composure and replied, “I’ll tell him I had a hell of a time!”

The rest of the night was not without incident, but we had no more encounters with any anti-revelers. Greg and I had become part of a larger force of fun. The party was alive, brewing with uncontrollable intensity. We would hear a rumbling cheer break out somewhere in the distance and wonder what particular event had spurred it, only to amplify the cheers ourselves when the activity spread through the crowds to us, like doing the wave at a baseball game. It became apparent that it was not any one event that was causing the contagious cheers, but simply the exuberance of groups of friends would begin yelling for the sake of it. Within seconds, everyone around them would join in and send the cheers roaring across a sea of party people, traveling from one end of the strip to the other.

The first hour that we had been in Las Vegas, Greg and I had noted how slow the time seemed to pass. But before we knew it there was only ten second left until midnight. Behind us the volcano in front of the Mirage began to erupt, giving us, and three hundred thousand of our newest friends, the cure to begin a cacophonous countdown that would have our ear ringing for days.

“Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one…happy new year!!!!”

The cheers resounded up and down the Vegas strip, lasting for a full few minutes. Otherwise, the transition to the year 2000 went off without any obvious apocalypses or widespread computer crashes. As Greg and I were walking back towards the MGM Grand we came across a dead body in the street, face covered with a towel, and a group of riot geared police milling about. It seems a young man had fallen twenty feet from the top of light post he had climbed upon, and landed on his head. He fell shortly after midnight. Greg and I exchanged pitying glances. The religious warnings we had brushed off earlier in the night no longer seemed as fanatical as they had. With the hands of the clock moving beyond midnight, the somber mood led us to sober up. The aesthetic had changed.

Jared Roy Endicott

Remembering The Y2K New Year's Aesthetic in Las Vegas
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By Shana Wien
posted on 22 February at 21:59

I was there too. Couldn't get the picture out of my head for a week

By Eileen Morris
posted on 02 February at 05:34

I saw that young guy climb up and then fall...it did change the vibe and all my memories of that night.