Spending the last day of the year in Times Square is not for the faint of heart. I would know – I did it, and I fretted for months beforehand how to withstand the many hours of waiting.
Prior to that fateful day, I read as much as I could online and gathered tips from friends who also lasted through this endeavor. I learned the following five things:
- Line up early to get the best spot possible.
- Dress warmly, and wear comfortable shoes.
- Don’t think about using the restroom. It’s not going to happen.
- Backpacks are not allowed. There will be bag checks.
- Don’t go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Alas, since it was my boyfriend’s [Jay] suggestion and bucket list item, I had to disregard the last bullet point. Perhaps the most daunting point though, was the fact that there would be no public toilets. Since we planned to start arrive in Times Square at noon for a good spot, that meant a whole 12 hours without a restroom. I read that some brave goers wore diapers or even urinated in cups. The thought was horrifying.
In the end, Jay and I opted for diapers as a last resort and hoped our bladders would remain resilient. We limited our liquid and food intake but brought snacks and water to sustain us through the day. Instead of backpacks, we brought small totes and disposable bags. For clothing, I wore wool socks, my thickest tights, jeans, a long-sleeved, thermal shirt, sweater, down knee-length coat, scarf, and a wool knit hat – later, I thought I could have benefited from yet another layer.
We arrived around 12:30, and saw that a couple “pens” (yes, like cattle pens) had already filled. We ended up trying to get as close to the Cosmopolitan/Cover Girl Stage as possible and waited there for another hour. As I was wondering how the police could possibly search all these New Year’s Eve hopefuls, I had my answer. They kicked everyone out to section off the pens. There was confusion. Where do we go? How could we get our spot back? Would people who waited earlier get priority? Truthfully, I don’t think even the policemen knew the answer, since they seemed just as befuddled as us. Get off the street! There’s nowhere to go. Keep walking! I would, but the crowd is literally not budging an inch. We asked multiple officers, all of who gave different answers as to where to go for check-in. Eventually, we ended up about a block and a half from our original location – not too shabby.
Around 2:30, they started the bag check and letting people in the pens. By this time, the crowd was as packed as a New York subway during peak hours, and it was clear that it did not matter how early you started waiting. We met a woman who had been out since 9 AM and several who arrived at 2 PM. We were all pushed against each other so tightly, I could almost lift my feet and be carried by the people around me alone. The personal bubble was non-existent, especially when we were to part ways for trucks hauling more barricades. Eventually, the police began trying to calm down the crowd by dissuading the pushing. Stop pushing! This is like kindergarten! It’s true that there’s a fine line between a crowd and a mob, and a few people were pulled away after pushing others. Also, if you think you can get away with a backpack, think again. Attendees were forced to toss the pack or leave.
Once in the pen, breathing room was ample. It’s truly a great time to meet people from all over the world and make new friends. Hours passed, and more people trickled out. We spotted a few fresh bags from McDonalds, to which we wondered how? Perhaps it was better not to know, as we still had the bathroom situation to avoid.
The festivities officially start at 6:00PM, with sound checks and rehearsals going on for a couple hours before that. Though by 6, I mean some performances sporadically sprinkled for another six hours and a New Year’s countdown every hour, on the hour, on a (from our distance) tiny screen. However, it did make the wait just a bit more tolerable. As Idina Mendel sang, the cold never bothered me anyway (But it did. The skin on my face is still weathered from it). We stood. We sat on the filthy, littered asphalt that is a street in New York City. We stood again and braced temperature that dipped below freezing. A man, helped by Mastercard, proposed to his girlfriend on stage (she said yes!), Jay saw his beloved Taylor Swift perform live, and we lived through the ball drop, fireworks, and a [literal] ton of confetti that is the New Year’s celebration in Times Square.