As fireworks explode, revelers exult and the crystal ball descends in Times Square, the Boston mass transit system will mark the arrival of the new millennium by ... grinding to a halt.
It won't be alone.
At the plants of U.S. Steel Group, the year 2000 will arrive without any steel-making. At Boston's Copley Square Hotel, the elevators will sit silently on the ground floor. The Louisiana casinos floating on the mighty Mississippi River will dock.
Fears of Y2K problems accompanying the arrival of the millennium have persuaded a variety of people from coast to coast to greet the new year not with a bang -- not with a boom -- but with a pause.
Some pauses will last a few minutes; other will cover a couple of days. All are linked to concerns that potential Y2K glitches are beyond the control of companies that have spent years and millions of dollars trying to work out the kinks.
Across the country, 50 Amtrak trains will stop around the same time, with officials of the commuter line saying delays could last up to an hour. Planned celebrations on the trains will include a special millennial party favor: a commemorative train whistle inscribed, "I rode Amtrak into the new millennium."
"We believe we are Y2K compliant," said Amtrak spokesman John Wolf in a statement typical of most worries. "This is just a precaution."
There will be no keepsakes on the Union Pacific Railroad, but the freight line also will halt its trains.
In Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will have trains stop inside stations as the clock approaches midnight. If there are no glitches, trains will start up a few minutes after the new year arrives.
The "better safe than sorry" policy extends to an assortment of mass transit systems: San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago will follow the same pattern as Boston. Delays were expected to run around 15 minutes. In Washington, officials were taking an extra precaution for their pause: leaving the doors open on all subway cars.
Managers of some New York City apartment buildings will move elevators to the ground floor at 11:50 p.m. Friday and keep them on the ground for 20 to 30 minutes -- with their doors open -- to avoid having any tenant stuck should there be a Y2K electrical outage.
At the Copley Square, hotel guests will not only have complimentary shampoo and shower caps on hand but flashlights, placed in all 143 rooms.
At another Boston locale, the swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel, an elevator company president and two technicians will check in for the night to prevent any pauses there. Each will spend the night -- Y2K willing -- inside a $400 room rather than a stalled elevator.
Some pauses are longer than others. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the call went out this week to turn off its 20,000 computers by Dec. 30 to avoid any Y2K woes. The computers should stay off until Jan. 2, school officials said.
On the Mississippi, things are going to be a little quieter than expected. Louisiana's 10 riverboat gambling operations all will dock for two hours beginning at 11 p.m.
The problem isn't the riverboats; it's a combination of fears that other craft on the river might not be Y2K compliant and "an abundance of caution," explained state police Lt. Dane Morgan.
Several round-the-clock business operations are planning to pause as well.
While U.S. Steel Group can't shut down its blast furnaces in Pittsburgh without causing damage, the USX Corp. division will not produce any steel for several hours.
"Everything's better if you're not pouring hot metal," said spokesman John Armstrong. The company, while confident with its own Y2K preparations, doesn't want to risk problems if power cuts out.
A number of major chemical producers will follow suit, trying to avoid any accidents or ruined batches of chemicals.
There will be no pause on the streets of New Orleans, where the city's venerable street cars -- primitive and manually controlled -- are scheduled to run right into New Year's Day.
Sometimes it pays to be old.
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