This is how the world ends: Not with a bang, but a simper.
4:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000 -- The Downtown Citrus Pub Crawl begins on Orange Avenue. Defying the doomsayers, the New Year has brought not the carnage of Armageddon but a pleasantly balmy afternoon. Only two millennial mysteries remain to be answered. What sort of diseased maniacs will show up for an intensive, four-and-a-half-hour walking tour through 17 local drinking establishments, all of it scheduled to take place less than 18 hours after the biggest carousing night of the past 100 years has become an antacid-softened memory? And why am I right on time?
Despite the perfect weather, downtown looks the same as it always does before sundown on a Saturday: like one of the exterior shots from "The Omega Man." The only hint of activity comes from the Hashers, the crimson cross-dressers and inveterate partiers who line the sidewalk outside Scruffy Murphy's Irish Pub. Introducing themselves as "a drinking group with a running problem," they raise brews in tribute to the arrival of "K-Y2, or whatever it is." Not content to wait for the Citrus Crawl to begin, they say they've been on their own bar-hopping adventure since noon. I hope they've left enough for the rest of us.
5 p.m. -- Why was I worried? A full 30 minutes after the event's advertised start time, many clubs remain locked and shuttered, including Cairo, Icon, Knock Knock and all three Yab Yum venues. Zinc is open for business, so I duck inside and order a Bud -- excuse me, Budweiser Millennium -- in honor of the kamikaze undertaking's fearless corporate sponsor. The bar's interior is a velvet tomb, with only two other customers sucking up the oxygen. Score three for diseased mania!
Poor judgment day
6 p.m. -- One-Eyed Jack's is enjoying a slightly better turnout, if only because of the Rose Bowl game on its big-screen T.V. Ignoring the drink specials listed on the Crawl's promotional fliers, the bartender charges me full price for my second Bud of the day. I steal a glance at the still-desolate avenue outside, and decide not to protest. I'm supporting the hometown economy.
Cairo, Icon and Knock Knock remain closed, as do Skinny's and Barbarella. But the coffee is brewing at Harold & Maude's Espresso Bar, where the young guy seated next to me -- again the only other patron -- tells the best story I've heard all century. It seems he spent New Year's Eve in the company of the voice actor who plays Spider-Man on the FOX-TV animated series ... and that the wall-crawling voice-over chose the already momentous occasion to propose to his girlfriend. With this ring, I thee web.
6:45 p.m. -- Though not listed on the official Pub Crawl map, the newly opened Bar extends an olive branch to the swiftly sinking outing. The club's signage invites us to come and "meet the Feigling Girls," who are on hand to help push the like-named brand of berry vodka. I'm barely inside the front door when one of the F.G.s talks me into buying a shot, then intones, "You're going to want another one," in her best Jedi mind-control voice. She already knows what a look around the room confirms: The dollar I've just spent has made me her best client.
Crawling from the wreckage
7 p.m. -- The punked-up Hamiltons take the stage at Sapphire, performing a ramshackle but enjoyable set in front of the largest crowd of the day: eight people, at the very least! "We're going to butcher this song," announces vocalist/guitarist Rob English before his band goes on to do no such thing. After 30 minutes of pummeling, the quartet leaves the stage and accepts the plaudits of the assembled few. Half an hour later, the room is empty again.
8 p.m. -- No signs of movement at Barbarella, though Skinny's has entered the fray (and is awfully cozy when there's no one blocking your view of the decor). Bucking the day's trend, The Globe -- the new Wall Street Plaza restaurant whose brick walls and garage windows are the only signs of its former life as the Go Lounge -- is about one-third full with curious diners. I notice that none of them is drinking Budweiser.
9 p.m. -- The Pub Crawl is technically over. At least a third of the "participating" venues haven't bothered to do so, and the ones that have have obviously taken a beating. As I head back to Bar to redeem my unused "free drink" coupon, I try not to associate the sojourn's utter failure with the stories I've been hearing from disgruntled downtown employees that the holiday was a washout for most of them. It's far too early in the year to get on the "Orange Avenue is dying" soapbox, especially when the simple fact remains that a New Year's Day bar blitz makes no more sense in practice than it does on paper.
Besides, it's kind of comforting to know that, in the new millennium, alcohol and bad decisions will continue to go hand in hand.