The wind barraged his face and his neck lamented his aversion to scarves, but his feet suffered the most. Despite the alleged water-proofing done to these boots, the gray slush of the 28th’s snowstorm had seeped in to soak his socks. No amount of toe-flexes or tap-dancing generated any warmth, the cold of the city refusing to be denied.
The Columbus Park tradition had remained for years, through heartaches, cross-country moves, and minor animosities. All seven of them had gathered to ring out the year together from the days when their parents had to drop them off at the T. Sneaking nips had been replaced with bar-hopping, with only the apathetic teetotaler remaining sober.
A general din bounced around the park, off the swanky hotels and out across the water, punctured by the occasional blare of five-dollar plastic horns. Two of the guys in the group reminded the lone girl about the time they saw a naked woman in one of the windows. Jill, once again, said that she remembered.
As the hour approached, everyone turned to look back at the skyline. For a while, the countdown had been projected via laser onto the face of the Custom House Tower. After a few years, they added in awkward, vector graphic-level images of sponsors, bank logos and cartons of orange juice. After someone in the tower complained, they shifted it over a building off to the left. Less iconic, but still functional. Where would it be this year, they wondered?
Another gust came up off the water and crept through the crowd, somehow seeming to jump through his layers of wool and fleece to settle right in his shoes. He clapped his hands and rubbed his mittens together, as if that would offset it.
“Time check?” Ben asked, not taking his eyes off the buildings.
“Midnight-ish,” Rick replied. No one took out their phones.
A timid pop came from over their shoulders. He turned around, slightly nervous (though not as much as he would have been at the end of ’99, when everyone joked about Y2K but secretly believed the world would end). Across the old Harbor, the first fluttering embers of the initial salvo of fireworks settled toward the water. As he scrunched his eyes in confusion, a bright green burst popped in the sky. The display had begun.
They all turned, his group and the rest of the crowd. Over the course of the following few minutes, a succession of sparkles and pops and bursts unfolded in relatively rote fashion. When it ended, the applause seemed muted by more than thick gloves. The display had been fine, but the lack of a countdown had hindered the celebration. And, by extension, the tradition. Trudging with the swaying crowd to the Green Line, no one wanted to say that, without a clear demarcation between the old and the new, none of them knew how exactly to exult.