Friday, December 31, 2010

Times Square is the place I want to be

AP photo
Confetti fills the air above Times Square during the New Year's celebration of 2007.

If there's one thing I would like to do - while I still have the gumption (and ability) to stand for nine hours -- it’s visit Times Square on New Year's Eve.

Nearly a million revelers are expected to cram into the streets of Times Square to witness the glittering ball drop on New Year's Eve. Not just any ball, either, it is a glittering Swarovski crystal ball that marks the start of the year.

I've been told by those who attend that the tradition of gathering in Times Square to ring in the new year has been going on for a century. In the early days, however, before the bowtie collection of streets at Broadway and Seventh Avenue, only the brave ventured the area as it was overrun with crime and home to sex shops and peep shows. Instead of gearing up for business, as many do now, shopkeepers would board up their windows with plywood and say a prayer that they had a shop to return to the next day. 

New Yorkers say it was a boozy, drunken mess.

Then NYPD put its foot down. "In the 1990s, the police wouldn't even let us play music on an outdoor sound system," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, which runs the event along with Countdown Entertainment. "They were afraid to draw any more people because it was wild."

Thanks to the arrival of Disney, upscale hotels, theme stores and restaurants in the mid-1990s, the celebration started to draw more families and tourist, and a kinder, gentler crowd. 

Following 911, the security plan was boosted to include a counterterrorism overlay, and the NYPD has been tweaking plans ever since.

Today, it's a remarkably crime-free, safe and orderly event with a few safety precautions such as no backpacks or hanging out in the lobby of downtown hotels, thinking you can pop out at 11:30 and watch the ball drop. Even guests at the posh 2,000-room Marriott Marquis in the heart of Times Square aren't allowed to leave the hotel or enter it after a certain time.

That's fine by me because, if and when my family and I get to this event, we might just forego the main floor seating and opt to watch the biggest public party in the country, from the comfort of a suite.

AP contributed to this report

Happy New Year!

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