It’s Not 1999

reminiscenceHappy 2017! We are, despite the sociopolitical drama, still alive!

Someone reminded me today, through Facebook posts talking of New Year’s Eves-past, of the fervor surrounding the Y2K crisis, and how New Year’s Eve can be more than a reason to celebrate.

The scare of “Y2K”. It’s ludicrous, now. From my limited, time-lapsed, filtered-through-adulthood-after-living-it-as-a-child understanding… It’s not so crazy. The entire end of the nineteenth century. Years at that time on all computers, devices, and any item that may contain a date, started with the assumption of “19”, and only changed the last two digits. Remember, computers were barely invented (on the scale) in the last few decades of the century. They weren’t looking forward so far.  Or so it seemed. Computers were a new fad in the eighties when I encountered them, and “social media” consisted of IRC chat groups where the speed of your connection (let’s talk 56k as the max) was the speed of your ideas. I learned to type fast, as a teenager on mIRC, because responses in chat groups weren’t funny unless you made them quickly.

The Y2k theory was: on all electronic devices with a date function, the “19” was set. Only the last two digits moved. The crisis of Y2k revolved around whether, when the year 2000 dawned, all computers and electronic devices would default  to 1900, glitch, and cause society to devolve into chaos.

Computers were new, guys. They were awesome when they appeared, and took over a lot of things pretty quickly. This 19/20 problem  was not outside the realm of possibility. In fact, it sounded pretty damn likely. It could throw stuff into chaos. It could be a zombie apocalypse… Except no one was actually a zombie, just hungry and tired and scared, because the things they thought were normally available were suddenly gone. Bank accounts, utilities, groceries, you know… Things that relied on numbers that computers were starting to control, but malfunctioned.

My parents didn’t just think about that possible terrible consequence; they prepared for it. They stockpiled food and water. They installed a wind generator (and learned how to run and maintain it themselves) that would power a bulb in the house, and found a fan and space heater that ran on the same frequency… They canned fervently, gardened, made us as self-sufficient as possible in a city lot…

I thought they were nuts, mostly. I was a teenager with other problems, and I assumed that the base of my life would go on unchanged. Y2K, whatever. I had a job, and a boyfriend, and some things to do with my friends that were really important. I thought my parents saving carefully-sterilized secondhand milk jugs of water was insane. At the same time I pretended they were nuts, I researched nuclear shielding and tried to calculate whether or not our house’s ground floor, based on square-foot suspension, could sustain the weight of an effective three-foot thick nuclear shield of earth for the basement.

It was cool, I was humoring them.

But, one night I happened to drive over the bridge from Wisconsin with my boyfriend to find that the lights were off in Iowa… We drove through the town at the end of the bridge (Marquette, IA), then through another town on our route (McGregor, IA)… There were no streetlights, home lights, business lights… Nothing but our own headlights cutting through the darkness. It was eerily dark and desolate. We drove up the rural highway to my hometown in complete darkness, save our car’s headlights.

Monona was just as dark and empty. There was a guard light barely visible inside the bank, when we stopped at the 4-way. All else was dark as we drove down the streets.


Coming up from the back street approaching my house, I could see a light in the dining room window of home. I parked the car, and my boyfriend and I came in to find my mom waiting up for us, hunched reading the bible over the bare bulb of the wind generator’s fruit. Just her, waiting,  and the bank with lights on. I guess that made me a treasure worth waiting for.

Mama would have been waiting nevertheless, but the wind generator and it’s one bulb capacity had made my home the only one with light on that night. I don’t know what caused the regional power failure – it was completely restored before morning, and we unconsciously went back to assuming Mom and Dad were crazy.

Despite “partying like it’s 1999,” (if I remember high school, that was music videos and hanging out with Becca,) the year turned smoothly.

In the end, the Y2K scare was just that – a scare. The world moved on. But I do remember all the effort that was spent to make sure that I was taken-care-of. And I see the planning, the heart, and the desire maintained, now. To shelter us, my sister and I, and our families,  if we needed it. Thank you for caring, for trying so hard, and for loving. I love you, Mama. Happy New Year.

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