My Y2K Memories

This is an article I wrote which was published in Sweden in the family association's annual magazine, Håbolssläktens Härold. It records some adventures on the rollover to Y2K on December 31, 1999 which turned out to be a benign event in spite of the fears from some quarters. I've edited the article to convert times and measures to American usage.


My Y2K Memories

by Donald M. Parrish, Jr.

Where were you when the clock struck midnight and suddenly it was January 1, 2000? Each of us will remember very clearly where we were that special midnight. I have two memories to share.

First memory: I was at work in Lucent Technologies worldwide switching command center before 4:00am in Chicago on December 31st. We were monitoring reports from our teams all over the world as the very first time zone in the Pacific rolled over to 1/1/2000. It was exciting to experience the year 2000. At this point, there still was a lot of fear about the potential impact of the Y2K bug. We could see on CNN natives in Tonga dancing in grass skirts around a fire. . . and, yes, the fire continued to burn after midnight! It was clear: fire was safe from the Y2K bug! Seriously, we watched our reports and CNN looking for any hint of an unexpected problem because several hundred million people depend on Lucent's switching equipment to work reliably all the time under all conditions.

Businesses, governments and organizations had spent $600 billion to get ready for Y2K. We were breathing easier after Auckland, New Zealand transitioned from 1999 to 2000 with no problems. Where were the massive computer and utility shutdowns "experts" had warned about? Instead, we were enjoying the fireworks display in Sydney. We were relieved how smoothly things were going, but Japan was still a question mark in some people's minds. When Tokyo greeted 2000 with no problems, we relaxed. We watched the worldwide celebrations, as each city seemed to compete with the other with clever displays that captured their culture. Where were the hackers, the computer virus creators, and the terrorists? Instead, we had a series of celebrations of mankind's accomplishments as the first 8 time zones crossed into 2000. My day's work was finished and I went home.

Second memory: This is somewhat embarrassing, but since I had to work again very early the next day, I was planning to go to bed at 8pm on December 31, 1999 and sleep through the Y2K rollover in Chicago. Just as I was about to go to bed, I got a call from Steve Cuppy, a friend of mine. Steve explained that he was going to fly a small plane into down town Chicago for the Y2K rollover and asked me to come along. Steve is a new private pilot and I had flown with him once before during the day when he could see what he was doing. A night flight with a new pilot is something to think about. Steve outlined the plan. We would meet at the local suburban airport at 11:00pm, be in the air by 11:15pm, fly into Chicago, see the fireworks and return to the airport by 1:15am. I explained that this was crazy since I had to get up at 2:30am to be at work before 4:00am but, of course, I said "yes". This would be the perfect adventure to remember the advent of 2000.

We met at the airport as planned. The night was cold and clear. The plane was small with just 2 seats and weighed about 1100 pounds empty. We took off on time and flew east toward Chicago. On the way, we circled the building I work in. I was amazed to learn that by flying below a certain altitude we could fly into Chicago with minimal control from O'Hare airport. Thus we could legally fly fairly close to the skyscrapers in Chicago including the tallest one, Sears Tower (1455 feet high). The lakefront is uncontrolled airspace after 8pm even on the eve of 2000. Airplanes just have to watch out for each other.

Once we reached downtown Chicago, we flew north along the coast of Lake Michigan. Steve was eager to explain the art of flying at night. As we were flying along the Lake, he suddenly turned the plane to head out over the water. "See, this is what happened to John Kennedy, Jr. He lost his bearings over water. You don't see a horizon. It's very disorienting." "Hey, Steve, I got your point! Why don't we fly back over land?" Steve laughed and we resumed flying north. With perfect precision, we reached a famous area landmark, the Bahai Temple, at 11:58pm and turned south to face Chicago, one of the world's great cities. We listened on the radio to the countdown - five, four, three, two, one - It's 2000!! At that instant, we could see 3 simultaneous fireworks displays starting by Lake Michigan.

Looking westward across the vast flat expanse of the 150 towns, which constitute the Chicago area, we could see dozens and dozens of fireworks celebrations. It was an unforgettable sight. Next, we flew downtown where 8 or 9 other planes were flying at different altitudes and directions near the skyscrapers using their radios to signal their intentions. It was a bit tricky to see the flashing lights on planes with so many fireworks in the background, but everything worked as planned and we returned to the airport as scheduled at 1:20am. I went home, took a short nap, got up and went to work on 1/1/2000.