American Times: Greenwich, Connecticut: Greenwich means time

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THEY HAVE been lying awake in Greenwich, Connecticut, scratching their well-groomed heads in search of a solution to the great millennium conundrum. Where to spend New Year's Eve 1999, now 12 months and a day away?

Forget what sport utility you park in your drive or which country club you frequent. In this town of conspicuous consumption, there is a new measure of success: what travel arrangements you have for the last days of next December.

My travel agent has bad news. Making it to the mid-Pacific and those few spots on the International Dateline that would allow me to celebrate the dawning of 2000 twice will be impossible.

Tonga, just west of the dateline, has 700 hotel rooms, but all are taken. And I just know that one of my neighbours will be among the 88 lucky souls who have paid $44,950 (pounds 28,100) for a seat on a jet chartered by an outfit called TCS Expeditions with a special schedule for the millennium. It will first deposit passengers on Tonga for the first few hours of 1 January 2000 before whisking them to Samoa, just east of the dateline, to see in the new year several hours later.

But wait. Perhaps I need go nowhere. Greenwich, it seems, will be throwing a bash of its own that will offer residents a chance to emulate what others will be trying in the Pacific. We also will be able to cheer in the millennium not once, but twice.

True, a degree of suspension of disbelief will be required. It will work like this: this Greenwich will for one night bask in the millennial glory that will belong to that other Greenwich, the one across the pond from which historically the world's time is measured. We will, in fact, pretend we are in the Greenwich of Wren and not in Connecticut. And why not? Greenwich, Connecticut, with its watery situation and grand civic pretensions - its assembly of so-called "selectmen" is bigger even than the state legislature - has never been shy about its old-country associations. There are no buildings by Wren in the town, but even its local newspaper makes a nod towards time-keeping: it is called the Greenwich Time and its logo is a clock.

So, according to plans being laid by a body called the Greenwich 2000 Committee, the arrival of the new millennium will be celebrated here five hours earlier than anywhere else in the eastern United States. In other words, we will be free to pop our champagne corks at 7pm, when midnight will be striking at the Royal Observatory in London. Tom Ragland, our First Selectman, thinks this a grand idea. "This will give me and many other Greenwich residents the opportunity to ring in the millennium and then get to bed by 9 o'clock," he said this week.

A variety of events are in the works: there will be exhibitions and lectures, and a mini-Stonehenge-like structure, representing a giant sundial, has been commissioned. The focus of the evening will be a party at the Hyatt Hotel, with bubble and squeak and warm beer. BBC coverage of events around midnight in Britain, including celebrations at the Dome and Observatory, will be beamed by satellite into the hotel and shown on giant screens in its ballroom.

All this was the brainchild of Ian Kerr, a Briton who has lived in Greenwich for 30 years and who heads the 2000 Committee. "Because of the name Greenwich and the name's association with time, we just said `Let's do what they're going to be doing in Greenwich, England'," he said. "We want to be able to say we were present there, when the new millennium hit the world".