Cities did not plunge into darkness. Civilization did not unravel at the seams. Bands of blood-thirsty marauders did not roam the wasteland pillaging and plundering a world we know longer recognized.
Frankly, I was a bit disappointed.
Twenty years ago, people were breathing a sigh of relief, unloading their weapons and wondering what to do with 150 cans of cling peaches and various other sundries from the bunker. Y2K had come and gone and our world was no different than it had been at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, 1999.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. For months leading up to the event, we were told this could be—this likely was—this most definitely is—The End.
We were bitten by the Y2K bug.
Here’s a reminder from National Geographic: “As the year 2000 approached, computer programmers realized that computers might not interpret 00 as 2000, but as 1900. Activities that were programmed on a daily or yearly basis would be damaged or flawed.”
And what would be affected if this happened? Banks, power plants, airlines, the government, maw-maw’s microwave—pretty much everything—would come to a screeching halt, experts warned us.
In other words, chaos.
People did what people do. They overreacted, panicked and spent money—lots and lots of money—preparing for doomsday.
As a card-carrying member of the media, I must admit we did our part to feed the hysteria, though it was far and away the national outlets that filled the trough rather than us local yokels who continued reporting on car crashes and council meetings.
A Time magazine cover in January 1999 trumpeted the question, “The End of the World?” giving readers a full 11 months to ponder it. During that time there were countless Y2K checklists—(1) water; (2) food; (3) maw-maw’s nerve pills—published everywhere information was consumed.
My family was living out in the country at the time. The little woman, the toddler, the two dogs and I survived a previous ice storm and nearly a week without power so I had unshakeable confidence we would come through Y2K unscathed thanks to a woodstove, a nearby creek, a couple of guns and my vast knowledge of post-apocalyptic movies.
I had seen the original “Mad Max” from Australian director George Miller 10 or 15 times and its sequel “The Road Warrior” (known as “Mad Max 2” outside the U.S.) almost as many times, so I knew a thing or two about the breakdown of civilization.
“It’s going to be tough,” I told the toddler, who at the time preferred Barney the dinosaur to Mad Max. “Everyone will likely speak with a thick accent and you’ll need to learn to drive at a high rate of speed at an early age, but we’re going to make it, kid.”
At work, I recall we brainstormed different strategies to get the paper out in case Y2K caused disruptions. I suggested we preprint two editions—one with a headline screaming WORLD IN FLAMES and the other proclaiming NOTHING HAPPENED, SUCKERS—and deliver the appropriate bundles the next morning.
Eventually, I think someone said, “Hey, guys. It’s beer-thirty. Just lead with the car crash across the top of the page and come down the right rail with the council meeting and let circulation figure out the rest.”
And then, for the most part, nothing happened.
National Geographic noted that countries like “Italy, Russia, and South Korea had done little to prepare for Y2K. They had no more technological problems than those countries, like the U.S., that spent millions of dollars to combat the problem. Due to the lack of results, many people dismissed the Y2K bug as a hoax or an end-of-the-world cult.”
Yes, but it was fun while it lasted and maybe, just maybe, a wayward comet or a zombie virus will rear its ugly head in the next decade and we can rush back to the store for cling peaches and ammunition.
I’ve still got that post-apocalyptic movie knowledge I need to put to the test.