Eiffel Tower ranks No. 1 in 2000 hoopla

This Just In...

January 03, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

A MONDAY morning 2 cents' worth on Friday night's multibillion-dollar, century-ending, century-beginning, lusciously overwrought, globally televised celebrations. Best of Show: Fireworks on the Eiffel Tower. (The French thereby defeating the British in the New Year's Eve we're-not-a-has-been country effort.)

Runner-up: Fireworks on the Washington Monument. Worst of Show: Tom Jones singing "It's Not Unusual" at "America's Millennium Gala" in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Runners-up: Hasn't-beens Kris Kristofferson and Don McLean trying to sing, respectively and not very well, "The Weight" and "American Pie" in front of the Lincoln Memorial. This was a Quincy Jones production. One is led to believe that Jones had in mind an "America Sings" type of concert. It was more like "America Cringes." Not even Will Smith or the Spielberg film could save it.

Absent friends

A minute after midnight, at the turn of the century, I was moved to an old photograph of honorable ancestors -- immigrants who had come to America in the early 1900s -- to toast their achievements. A cousin e-mailed from Chicago to remind me of the ocean-crossing, century-turning journey of our maternal grandfather, Vito Popolo. Young, poor and speaking no English, Vito had left Naples by passenger ship Dec. 26, 1899, and arrived in America on Jan. 5, 1900. "If he hadn't had the guts to make the voyage, none of us would be here now," my cousin wrote on the first day of 2000.

I'm certain ours was not the only family to take the dawning of Y2K personally.

All that looking back we did as the 20th century closed consisted of big history -- wars and inventions, and the larger-than-life figures who made wars and inventions. But if you have any sense of place, time and self, you probably took a moment away from the Y2K hype to remember absent friends and relatives, ordinary people who touched your life, faces from along the journey.

Sandra Gordon did.

She graduated from Western High School in 1955, and recalled a promise made in June of that year: She and some classmates were to meet at the Washington Monument in Baltimore's Mount Vernon Square at midnight Dec. 31, 1999, the dawn of 2000. Gordon, known as Bucky Buckowitz back in high school, showed up there with her husband Friday night. She was pessimistic that any of her classmates would make it, but she brought champagne and cups anyway.

It was a wonderful evening -- hopeful and happy, even without her old classmates. The Gordons could see the Inner Harbor fireworks from Mount Vernon. "We had the opportunity to greet many people who passed by with New Year's wishes and received surprised smiles and greetings in return," she said. "At the stroke of midnight, a young French woman and her companion from Africa were nearby and joined us for champagne. We toasted in the century with these pleasant strangers."

And remembered absent friends.

'Brad's' privacy limits

Now we know, thanks to a persistent and vigilant press, that Bill Bradley's favorite dessert is pecan pie, and that his favorite junk food is cashews. We've also been informed that Bradley's favorite comic strip is "Dilbert," and that his first car was a Plymouth Fury, and that long ago, when Bradley was a boy, some called him "Brad," and some called him "Monster."

Walter Cronkite was correct: Ours is a noble undertaking, a grand public service, the search for the truth that keeps a democracy alive. What do you think the press' next question of "Brad" will be -- whether he wears boxers or briefs?

Only 36 percent of voting-age Americans participated in the 1998 election, but, God be praised, it was an informed minority that went to the polls. And the press appears to be as diligent as ever, chipping away in this new presidential year at the candidates' veneers to find out what really makes them tick.

This Bradley has not been cooperating, however.

Getting the former New Jersey senator's staff to release that stuff about cashews and nicknames was considered an achievement. Bradley has been clinging hard and fast to his privacy, refusing to divulge if and where he goes to church, and what books he reads. This frustrates reporters assigned to cover him because asking personal questions of dubious relevance became accepted practice during the past quarter-century, and even more so in the age of personality-driven politics and 24-hour television news.

Ask yourself:

Do I need to know if George W. once used drugs?

Do I need to know John McCain's religious practices to decide whether he should be president? Does it matter if he goes to church?

Did it matter to anyone in Baltimore that the new mayor, Martin O'Malley, is a Roman Catholic? Before going to the polls in November, would Baltimore voters have been better off knowing what movies he rented at Blockbuster?

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