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A year for which I'd waited .a lifetime

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Ten ... nine ... eight ... seven ... six...." As I stood near the corner of 44th and Broadway counting down the final seconds of 1999, I craned my neck up toward the sparkling ball perched high above Times Square and tried my best to freeze the moment in my mind. I wanted to be able to look back on this in years to come and vividly remember the giddiness I was feeling.

The seconds ticked down, and I felt the surging energy of the crowd rise to the moment. I couldn't help but wonder: What would I remember most about this night? Would it be the hail of confetti, the shouts of jubilant revelers, the shower of fireworks arcing high above the throng? What would, in years to come, stand out foremost about this single instant in my life?

I had dreamed of this night since I was 14 - back when I used to slip out the back door of the family home on balmy summer evenings. I'd gaze up at the heavens through the Carolina pines - stretched out on the soft wood of the backyard picnic table. It seemed such a distant event then. Nearly a quarter century in the future - so many starry skies in between, so much life to be lived first. Back then, I couldn't help pondering what the world might be like. Where would I be? What would I be doing? Would I be rich? Successful? Happy?

I decided to make a pact with the future. I'd be there that night. Somehow, someway, I'd make it to Times Square to bear witness to the celebration. It seemed a reasonable dream, then. It was one I could tuck away on a shelf until the far-off day arrived.

"Are you crazy?" concerned friends asked me when I told them of my New Year's plans. Nearly 2-1/2 decades had passed since I'd made my picnic-table promise. It was Dec. 31, 1999, my date with destiny. Anything could happen, they warned me. A bomb might explode. Riots could break out. The world might end.

I thanked them for their concern, assured them that I would be all right, and boarded a northbound train in Atlanta. Destination: New York City.

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