Freewayriding celebrates the end of the Millennium in a van
Happy bloody New Year! After six hours in the back of the van I was not a happy bunny. The extractors hummed noisily as they struggled to replace cigarette smoke, the stench of cheese and onion sandwiches and the nervous impatience of the eight occupants with fresh chill December air.
That afternoon’s briefing had dragged on interminably, reports and predictions, lectures from computer geeks, the Ministry and the Emergency Planning bods. In a nutshell we were to expect everything and anything from looting and civil unrest to all out Armageddon. In truth nobody really knew what to expect when the world’s clocks ticked into a new millennium. Planes may fall from the skies, nuclear strikes casually initiated by errant cyber systems, mass rioting as the communications and command and control systems crashed, panic and death as the power supplies failed to be regulated by their electronic overlords, the list of possible doomsday scenarios continued on and on.
All this because of a bug, must be a bloody monster of a thing, a bug to put all Japanese B movies to shame.
Everyone had fingers crossed, waiting with fear and anticipation for the cataclysm to begin.
Cold sweat dripped down my body armour as I risked a glance at my watch; mere minutes to go. Complete radio silence from Gold Command up ‘til now. I threw my book down in disgust, adrenalin fighting with boredom was forcing me to read the same sentences over again and again, the words of the latest Anne Rice jumbling up on the page as if the ink had decided to have one last stab at fluid freedom before the terrible hour struck.
The van roared into life and hurtled through streets packed with revellers, most stone cold sober as even the crumbiest pubs and clubs were charging an exorbitant entrance fee on this night to end all nights. We screeched to a halt in the city centre as the clocks went into their final countdown, seconds chanted backwards in unison by an almost hypnotized crowd. Most eyes glued to watches and the city clock, some turned heavenward watching for exploding aircraft or an alien invasion, others cast downwards in silent prayer, begging for survival into the new era. Those who held hands with loved ones, unconscious of the bloodless knuckles, holding tightly to the now, fearing the possible nothingness that may follow.
Personally my gaze was riveted to the dashboard clock and the VHF receiver. Checking equipment and donning riot gear with practiced automated ease. Hoping that something would happen to relieve the tension but begging it wouldn’t result in carnage.
Tick, tick, tick; a Chinese water torture of a minute.
Then with one final effort the computers, clocks and watches and vast hordes of people all safely skipped from one millennium into the next. Nervous grins mixed with obscenities in the van as handshakes were swapped and we bade each other a happy New Year.
The debrief was an anti-climax, nothing went wrong, anywhere, not even a flickering of streetlamps as the dreaded Y2K became our present. The only major casualty: the budget for next year due to the huge overtime bill for one washout of an event.
Witnessing the passing of a decade is usually cause for celebration, the turn of a century even more so , but let’s hope our distant descendants actually get to enjoy Y3K - hopefully just as bug–free!