Dirty Boots: “Twenty Years since Y2K”

We all just knew something awful was going to happen, but that was also kind of cool. We were told that all of the computers were going to freak out and crash, including the ones in our cars, including the ones at the banks, when the double-digit year “99” tried unsuccessfully to flip over to “00.” The computers wouldn’t know what to do, and it was going to be apocalyptic. After midnight on January 1, 2000, we weren’t going to be able to buy groceries or turn on the heat. Everything that involved electricity or telecommunications would go haywire. Y2K was going to ruin everything.

It seemed like a fitting end for Generation X. To go out for New Year’s Eve and come home to oblivion. Our generation’s distinguishing challenges had been skyrocketing divorce rates and growing up largely unsupervised, and now the Boomers, our parents’ generation who built a world in which computers are ubiquitous, would be bringing it all down on our heads right as we came of age.

What was even more fitting for Generation X was that it didn’t happen. Nothing happened. The lights didn’t even flutter. Even Y2K turned out to be a let-down. I was in Charleston, South Carolina that night, in a park downtown, as the crowd counted down, ” Three . . . two . . . one . . .” One huge collective gasp occurred, as hundreds of people around us sucked in a hard breath from the cold night air . . . then used that breath to let out one huge collective cheer when Y2K didn’t cancel out the world as we knew it. The first moment of the year 2000 was the ultimate anticlimax for our generation. What was amazing about us, though, was that we believed it would happen and went out partying anyway. “It’s the end of the world as we know it . . . and I feel fine . . .”

Y2K marked the end of my youth. I spent that night with this pretty girl with big blue eyes and asked her to marry me less than a year later. In 2000, I worked the last of my after-college dead-end jobs and got a job in book publishing in early 2001. After that, the dominoes fell as they do for most people: buy a house, have some children, work a lot, look up and realize you’re middle-aged. Tonight will be twenty years since we drew that collective breath in Charleston on the night we thought civilization would come crashing down. It didn’t, though, and now I guess it’s time to stop talking about it and move on.


This will be the last of “Dirty Boots: A Column of Critical Thinking, Border Crossing, and Noblesse Oblige,” a weekly column published every Tuesday afternoon that offered a Deep Southern, Generation X perspective on life in the 21st century. To find and read previous posts, click here for a full list.

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