FIRST OF ALL, we’re still here. That little miracle is where you begin. Remember last New Year’s? The horror of Y2K? At the stroke of midnight, the world was supposed to freeze in its tracks. Clocks would stop. Cities would go dark. Our entire infrastructure would melt to its core and soon we’d all be running around in loincloths, swinging sticks and eating berries.
Sorry. Didn’t happen. (Well, it did happen, on “Survivor,” but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
Anyhow, the millennium began with a massive fizzle.
But we rallied.
And then some. Think of all the things we saw this year that we never thought we’d see. A Jewish vice-presidential candidate. Same-sex unions allowed by states. An abortion pill. A Subway Series. Regis Philbin at night.
There was indeed a sense of newness to this year, a “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” from little things — like remembering to write “2-0-0-0” on our checks — to big things, like a presidential election that ended in a tie.
This was the year the large got larger. Tiger Woods was no longer a great golfer; he was the best golfer EVER. Hillary Clinton wasn’t just a first lady, she was A SENATOR.
As the year unfolded, the sheer magnitude of the news seemed to grow — or at least the way we covered it did — until we became a nation in the front row of a rock concert: We couldn’t hear anything unless it was at amp-blasting levels.
Did you hear? The CONCORDE CRASHED! Didja hear? A RUSSIAN SUB SANK! Didja hear? BRAD PITT’S GETTING MARRIED!
Someone turned up the volume in 2000. And often not on newsworthy events. Consider our fuss quotient these past 12 months. The fuss we made over John Rocker and his big mouth? Or the fuss over Jennifer Lopez’s Grammy dress? Or the fuss over Madonna getting married? Alex Rodriguez’s contract?
What for? Did any of those things really affect our lives?
No. But then, the year 2000 again offered the question: Who’s steering the ship, the news-shapers or the news-watchers?
No story illustrated this more than Elian Gonzalez.
Viewed in retrospect, we all — spectators and media — should be as embarrassed as a sailor with a massive hangover. Did we really do that? Stay glued to the TV set, debating the fate of this 6-year-old boy as if civilization depended upon it? Did we really listen to loopy sound bites from
“the Fisherman” and that nutty Marisleysis woman? Why was this so important?
I’ll tell you why. Because we have become addicted to news. It is the new town square, the new gossip by the water cooler. Think about it. What are most of our technological breakthroughs about these days? More information. Faster information. Headlines via your cell phone. TV screens the size of your watch.
The News, The Big Story, has become our new garden gate. You may not remember your neighbor’s first name, but you sure as heck can say, “So, neighbor, what do you think about this election stuff? Amazing, huh?”
Which of course, leads us to the story of the year: Gore-Bush. This was the trump card. A dead heat for president? Come on. Time magazine kept putting it on its cover, no doubt figuring the saga would end that week. But, like a certain bunny, it kept going and going. The deeper we dug, the more it looked dead even. One wondered whether the final count actually would show a difference of one vote.
In the end, it did. A Supreme Court vote. And a political war was decided by a group most of us thought was above politics.
Which, by the way, was another theme of 2000. Guess again. You thought reality TV could get no lower? Guess again. “Survivor,” a show that rewarded back-stabbing, fiendish plotting and the shameless pursuit of a million dollars, was the most popular program of the year.
Thought the tech boom would go on forever? Guess again. The Nasdaq is worth about half of what it was earlier this year, and even Microsoft lost in court.
Thought Bill Clinton would leave the White House in shame? Guess again. He departs as perhaps the most popular president in modern history, and his wife is going to earn $8 million to tell readers what life is like alongside him.
Here in Michigan, guess again was played every month. Did you think Comerica Park would mean a winning baseball team? Guess again. Did you think the Wings would rally and win the Cup back? Guess again. Did you think casino gambling would be a smooth sail? Guess again. Did you think DaimlerChrysler was really a merger and not an acquisition? Guess again.
Once again, gunshots played a sad soundtrack to our area. There was a 6-year-old boy who shot and killed a female classmate. There was a man who blew his brain out in a casino. There was a 16-year-old boy killed, execution style, in the cooler of a New Baltimore pizza parlor. And still we ended the year with the Legislature pushing through a bill that would allow nearly everyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon. The Wild Wild Midwest.
This was a year when gas prices zoomed and stock prices plummeted. When the most dangerous virus was a computer thing called “love bug” and the hottest trend in love was mail order brides over the Internet.
This was a year when we lost American soldiers not to warbut to terrorism. And the year that Charles Schulz, Tom Landry, Walter Matthau, Sid Abel and the guy who played the Lone Ranger — men we thought would live forever — instead passed away, leaving only memories.
But fear not. Lest you think the world is turned on its ear, falling off its axis, spinning into some wild and dangerous new orbit in this wild and dangerous new age, take solace in a few familiar words that should, after all the tumult, make you feel right back at square one:
The Lions lost.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Mitch’s radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” runs 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).