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12.26.07

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Party Over, Whoops, Out of Time

Know what New Year's is great for? Doom! And disaster, let's not forget disaster. Seriously, a scan of the record books reveals that, historically speaking, we should consider ourselves lucky to live through New Year's Eve.

By Steve Sanchez


REMEMBER how in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all the vamps had a rule that they didn't strike on Halloween because of general distaste for the commercial tackiness of the night? They probably aren't fans of New Year's Eve attacks either—for one thing, they'd have to listen to the worst song of all time, "Auld Lang Syne."

Certainly this Dec. 31 there's plenty of reason to party—this last year was a bad 'un. I could take a whole podiatrists' college full of Doc Martins, and they couldn't build a pair of steel-capped boots thick enough to give Old Man 2007 the kick in the ass he deserves. After midnight, he dines in hell.

And when Jan. 2 finally dawns, we're at the end of this year's winter holidays. It's a brutally dangerous time, with 32 flavors of death awaiting the unlucky.

As I write this, we're not out of danger yet—the end of the year has historically been prime time for disaster.

For proof, check out Jay Robert Nash's book Darkest Hours, an encyclopedia of disasters, plagues and battles. As hours go, the end of the year has played host to some of the darkest.

Take the Dec. 31, 1944, collision of two sections of the Pacific Limited just outside of Ogden, Utah, right before daylight. An engineer didn't see the stalled earlier section of the train up ahead, and when he realized the smash-up was coming, he died on the spot of a heart attack. Fifty people claimed by the curse of New Year's Eve. Now, that's an emotional train wreck.

Then there was the fatal cruise of the Iolaire Jan. 1, 1919. It was struck by a Scottish storm and crushed against the "Beasts of Helm," some rocks locally famous for perforating ships. Two hundred and seventy aboard didn't get to see how 1919 turned out. Just as well. It was a dud year. Just like 2007, only with Spanish Flu and Prohibition.

There are plenty of customers who wish they could have lived to demand refunds after the immolation of the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, Dec. 30, 1903 (close enough to the fateful New Year's for our purposes). It was the worst theater disaster in American history, more horrifying then the debut of Catwoman. Only 38 days old, the theater lacked any fire-prevention besides a few useless powder-based extinguishers and a lot of wishful thinking. Some 600 more victims—women and children mostly—didn't make it out. It is supposedly here that some enterprising reporter first tested the joke, "Other than that, how did you like the play?" Over 100 years later, on Dec. 30, 2004, the Republica Cromagnon nightclub in Buenos Aires fulfilled the musical prophecy made by the Trammps in "Disco Inferno." The stingy management locked the fire exits to keep gatecrashers out. Inflammable decorations and no doubt scorching music by headliners Callejeros—later to be known as the Great White of South America—added up to a one-way ticket out of this vale of tears for 194 Argentinians.

Don't Fly the New Year Skies

Ever since the beginning of aviation, Jan. 1 has been a day of risk. Last year's New Year's Day Adam Air Boeing 737 crash into the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is but one of many, many examples. Lives lost: 102.

"Buying the farm" is the old aviator's slang for landing a plane in the middle of someone's crops. This expression is particularly apropos for what happened to Itavia Airlines Flight 897 on Jan. 1, 1974. The plane made an unscheduled stop right into the side of a dairy farm near Turin. The Fokker 28, out of Sardinia, killed 39 passengers and one farmer.

Under more cloudy circumstances, an Aeroflot Ilyushin-18 crashed on takeoff in Leningrad, Dec. 31, 1970, taking 93 victims. The very next day, a Rousseau Aviation Nord 262 out of Algeria vanished into the Mediterranean with 31 passengers. This is all documented, by the way, at Air Disaster.com, where aviationphobes get their worst fears realized. If God meant us to fly, he would have made us parakeets.

The number of ice storms, floods and twisters occurring on the cusp of the year are too numerous to mention. Winter is nature's proof that she hates us and wants us dead. Would the infamous 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Thailand have picked a better time to strike than right before New Year's Day? And would there have been a more sinister time for the floods to hit Oahu then the cusp of 1987–88, when soon-to-be-displaced Hawaiians were prematurely celebrating the end of the holidays? Not to mention a particularly bizarre occurrence in New Year's Day 2003 in Bangladesh, when freezing temperatures hit that thinly dressed nation, killing 400.There's other freak accidents that lead up to the holiday but don't really count: certainly the firecracker-originated burning of four blocks of Lima, Peru, on Dec. 29, 2001, is sort of New Year's related holocaust. Unsafe and insane firecrackers are part of the New Year's festivities out where I live. The natives fire their guns at the sky at midnight, to punish God or something. Too much alcohol, high hopes, desperate gaiety, drunk drivers, psychos pretending to be friendly partiers—I could go on, but why bother? Everyone will just go out and whoop it up at a New Year's party like there's no tomorrow. Then again, maybe there isn't.


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