"People only see what they are prepared to see."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rob Chiller has rediscovered the joys of speaking his mind after a decade-long stint
in Corporate America. When not behind a keyboard, Rob can be found offering his
unsolicited opinions on life to anyone who happens to be passing by his house.
It is difficult to have much faith in humanity these days. You can’t
turn on the news or visit the mall without being reminded of all our shortcomings.
War, terrorism, hate, rudeness, impatience, selfishness — we cannot live in today’s
society and avoid these things. It’s truly no wonder prescriptions for
anti-depressants have increased by roughly twelve billion times in the past
ten years. It’s sad to think we live in a society bound by necessity,
but torn apart by hate. It seemed to me that this New Year heralded nothing
but more of the same, and hardly seemed worth celebrating. But then I thought
about Times Square.
No, New York City is not usually the first place one thinks of when searching
for a “feel-good” humanity story. New York, frankly, has the reputation for
being about as friendly as a rabid wolverine, only without the manners. This
was especially true before 9/11, and the public’s perception has changed only
slightly since then. I used to live nearby, and have seen things that disprove
that reputation, as well as things that reinforce it. The city, as with any
mass of humanity, is unpredictable.
Which is why I approached my New Year’s trip to Times Square with some
trepidation. Granted, this was back in the 90s, before the threat of terrorism
loomed so close to home. But the city had enough to fear without it — I devised
a plan worthy of the Secret Service to watch and protect my then-girlfriend
(now wife) during our excursion into the sea of people. I prepared to be
vigilant, aware of my surroundings, and never, ever more than 15 inches away
from Marie. As we got off the train at Penn Station and headed towards
Broadway and 42nd, I started scanning the crowd for “suspicious characters.”
I spotted seven before we made it off the train station platform. This was
going to be a challenge.
But as we hit the streets, amongst the thousands making their way to Dick
Clark’s party, my nervousness slowly passed. The atmosphere was so joyful!
Everywhere someone was laughing, smiling, singing. Even once we reached the
center of Times Square, packed like sardines into the street, celebration
replaced profanity on the streets of New York. It was if we were all old
college buddies, or close family friends. We danced, we joked, we toasted
to what was to come. We took many pictures with people we did not recognize
the next day, but who seemed to be our best friends at the time. It was
like a dream.
Twenty minutes after midnight, as we made our way back to the station, we
did a quick check, and realized we made it through the event with our
health and all of our possessions. There was no crime that night. No
violence. No rudeness. For one night, the City That Never Sleeps became
How was this possible? We can barely coexist with 12 other people in an
elevator… how did a quarter-million people cram themselves into a three-block
radius without bloodshed? Surely there had to be some definitive sociological
“They’re all drunk,” I thought. Certainly, the town was playing fast and
loose with the open-container laws that night. Everyone held a bottle or
flask, taking nips to ward off the chill. But, in retrospect, that
reasoning doesn’t hold water. There are hundreds of bar fights every
Saturday across America — 250,000 drunk people in the same place should,
in reality, spell trouble.
But there was none. Sure, occasionally someone would lose their balance,
become loud, or sing particularly off-key, but in general this was accepted
with good-natured grace. For that night, we were unified as a society,
enveloped in a sense of community and empathy.
Thinking back on that night, one specific incident has come to symbolize
that feeling of harmony. As midnight approached, most of us had found
places to stand to watch the ball drop. But many others were still
scrambling to get the best view, or to regroup with friends. With the
writhing mob, navigation was difficult, to say the least. We watched a
man fight through the crowd with two bottles, finally settling behind us
and handing a bottle to his companion. “I can’t believe that took 45
minutes!” he exclaimed. Not ten seconds later, an obviously intoxicated
gentleman bumped into him, sending his newly acquired drink crashing to
His frustration was palpable. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He
turned to face the clumsy drunkard…
It should be mentioned at this point that I have attended many sporting
events in the New York area, and can tell you with complete certainty
that beer-spilling is a capital offense within the city limits.
Therefore I was a bit surprised by the man’s reaction. Instead of reaching
for the closest blunt object, he shrugged. And smiled.
That’s all it took — a shrug and a smile to diffuse a potential conflict.
The simplest of gestures spoke volumes about man’s potential for tolerance
So, this year, instead of dwelling on all the evils seemingly programmed
into our genes, I choose instead to focus on my memories of that night,
and the harmony that all 250,000 of us created together. Maybe we won’t
end war this year. Maybe we won’t stamp out hate and bigotry. Maybe we
won’t lead humanity down the road to enlightened coexistence.
But at least now, I know it’s possible.
Copyright © January 2004 Rob Chiller and Low Carb Luxury