Welcome to 2020! It was just 20 years ago the world woke up with a big “WTF” on their minds and lips because the Earth was still spinning, Armageddon didn’t occur, and, most importantly, the clocks our computers told the correct time thereby avoiding a cataclysmic crash that would irrevocably destroy our lives, or at least the programming of our DVRs.
Yes..it was the cute little thing called Y2K, meaning year 2000, when, we were warned in the most dire terms, computers would not be able to handle the change from years that began in “19” to those in “20” and life as we know it would end.
As a CNN reporter back then, I was compelled to come up with stories bolstering this global paranoia leading up to the time when time was supposed to end. I was also given one assignment, which I refused, because it was idiotic.
First, the lead-up stories. The owner of a large produce market in a Detroit suburb contacted our CNN Detroit bureau desk and suggested we come out there to see how Y2K was already paralyzing his operation, weeks before the new year. The angle was, if they ran a person’s credit card that expired in the year 2000 or beyond, their entire point of sale system would shut down.
“Come out, we’ll demonstrate it. Great TV!” he told our assignment manager. So we schlepped out there, set up our gear, rolled the camera and told him to show us this horrible manifestation of Y2K. Smiling for the camera he dramatically swiped a credit card with a year 2001 expiration date. Nothing happened. Now, not smiling as much, he did it again. Same result. We’re silently calling bullshit, but OK, we’ll be patient. The guy insists this really happened, so he gets an employee to cough up his card with a post 20th century expiration date. Swipes it. Nope. It IS bullshit!
I tell him, “sorry” but his imagined Y2K nightmare was just that. A dream. Desperate for some CNN screen time, he begged us to come back tomorrow when he was sure he could get his new computerized cash registers to crash..just for us!
Urged to find still more Y2K angles, just to keep the hype up, and to provide the network with stuff to tease, we found a guy in Michigan who claimed he actually DISCOVERED the Y2K glitch and wanted proper credit for it. So, sure, we do the interview, and he’s pretty convincing,has all sorts of documentation and we feed the story. Gets pretty good play and we get happy words from the poobahs in Atlanta. Of course, the year 2000 happens, but Y2K disaster doesn’t. We contact the guy to do a follow-up. Suddenly he’s unreachable. Maybe he was the only one to vaporize…based on his convincing research, or course.
Finally, I get a call from our national desk asking me to take on a “super special, really important” assignment for the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day period. Here’s the deal. The network chartered a plane that would sit, ready, at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. I was to sit, ready, at a hotel near DFW. If some horrible Y2K event occurred anywhere in the country, I was to run over to that plane, hop aboard and have it take me to that place and I was to file an instant story. It was a stupid idea and I begged off, in the most diplomatic way, saying I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Texan. I already had a long reputation of being a wiseass and so they sent a business news reporter based in NYC to babysit a baby that would never be born.
But here we are, 20 years later and I have to admit, I think about that time and how the world got sucked into such silliness. I guess if we were living in today’s social media world we might have seen a meme of derision…like “Y2K, Doomer!”
Happy New Year all. Check your computer clock. It’s probably on time.