This story was originally published in Newsday on January 17, 2000
In the embarrassingly peaceful aftermath of the Y2K disaster, those who predicted the most dire consequences and prescribed the most expensive fixes have had surprisingly little explaining to do. There was such a great collective sigh of relief when midnight did not devolve into a scene from the movie Independence Day that even those with the Y2K meter still running were handed a glass of champagne.
Compared to say, the Missiles of October, Y2K seems from the retrospect of two weeks to be cause for a good hearty laugh at our own expense. Pardon me if you spent the night in a Brookhaven bunker, but there exists a great comic leap between a computer getting the date wrong and expecting your neighbor to show up at the door with a shotgun, demanding all your canned corn.
But as any tech will tell you, there's no reason to be ashamed. What if we hadn't spent those billions? What if Symbol Technologies hadn't organized a force of hundreds to root out and correct millions of lines of offending software code, if systems hadn't been tested and brought up to "standard," if staffs hadn't been hired to work through the fated weekend? Might we then have faced thieving hordes and looting masses?
Nancy Behrens does. The Queens resident, who is corporate software trainer and Y2K coordinator for Manhattan-based TeleRep, has been catching flack from wiseguys who say it was all a hoax. Even her brother tried to break her chops.
"I had to straighten him out," she said last week. "I said, 'Of course everything was fine: We worked really hard!'"
Don't get her started. "It really is a pet peeve I have," she explained. "I do believe a lot more would have gone wrong had the work not been done. I also believe a lot more did happen that we're not hearing about, and which have been able to fix."
And while she believes the Archie Bunkers of the Y2K event who spent the night encased in six feet of concrete were "a little extreme," she also acknowledges that one of her company's older computer servers that didn't get a Y2K software fix rolled over to 2000 without a hitch.
From a purely consumer standpoint, one sure sign that there wasn't much to fear of the Y2K sky falling was that even computer retailers didn't-or couldn't-cash in.
A day before the big nonevent, home computer repair specialists spent the morning cheaply dispensing calm.
At worst, the specialists assured panicked procrastinators, home systems would display an incorrect date. Think of it as daylight savings time: reset it. Or be really crazy and leave the old date. Either way, get over it.
More tellingly, dozens of computer service shops contacted on New Year's Eve were closed. The few that were open reported a moderate tide of panicked users appearing at their doors, desperate for a fix.
For the most part, those users were told that unless they were using their systems to program heat-seeking missiles with date-dependent destinations, to go home and get some rest.
Jerry Lajoux, a partner and computer technician at Franklin Computers Plus in Franklin Square, said he spent hours on the phone with a customer New Year's Eve, talking him off the Y2K ledge. Finally, he urged him to bring his two-year-old system in for a look see. "I more concerned with Russian missles," Lajoux said.
Tim Collins, owner of East Hampton-based South Shore Computer Works, who put in a half day New Year's Eve and was leaving his Monday-after-New Year's schedule open, put the blame for all the fear squarely on me.
The "misconception a lot of the home users was because the press focuses on the bad things," he said.
Allow me to explain.
While I didn't expect (or want) the earth to snap in two, I confess to a perhaps clinical New Year's Eve hope that ... something! would happen. I remembered the night two years ago when it first hit me that people were taking Y2K considerably more seriously than I, then editor of a computer newspaper. I was riding home on the Long Island Rail Road when a fellow across the aisle struck up a conversation that eventually turned to his obsession with the impending chaos. Sweating profusely and pausing a moment to drink from a vial of ginseng (I swear), he spoke of plans to move away from New York to a place where he and his parents might escape the looting hordes. Gently, sympathetically, I assured him it was all a hoax. As far as I knew, the worst that could happen was computers might get the date wrong. "We can fix that," I said. "We have the technology." He shook his head with a weird smile. He recognized me as a non-believer. And I recognized him as a source. What a story! I thought.
Two years later I'm willing to admit complicity-except, of course, to those looking for a place to send Y2K invoices. Those I would suggest forwarding directly to Nancy Behrens. She lives in Queens.