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Hope: US rings in 2012
First Published Dec 31 2011 07:33 am • Last Updated Dec 31 2011 08:58 pm

New York • Times Square was awash in hopeful sentiments as it began to welcome hordes of New Year’s Eve revelers looking to cast off a rough year and cheer their way to something better in 2012.

For all of the holiday’s bittersweet potential, New York City always treats it like a big party — albeit one that, for a decade now, has taken place under the watchful eye of a massive security force.

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Pessimism has no place on Broadway. Not on New Year’s Eve, anyway. The masses of tourists streaming through the square for a glimpse of the crystal-paneled ball that drops at midnight were there to kiss, pose for silly snapshots and gawk at the stages being prepared for performers like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.

Some revelers, wearing party hats and "2012" glasses, began camping out Saturday morning, even as workers readied bags stuffed with hundreds of balloons and technicians put colored filters on klieg lights.

"Everybody’s suffering. That’s why it’s so beautiful to be here celebrating something with everybody," said Lisa Nicol, 47, of Melbourne, Australia, after securing a prime spot next to the main stage.

Houston tourist Megan Martin, 22, staked out her space with her boyfriend at 10:30 a.m. She said the party ahead would be worth sitting on cold asphalt all day in a spectator pen ringed by metal barricades.

"I told him the pain only lasts tonight, but the memories last forever," she said.

Many Americans will usher in the new year thinking that 2011 is a year they would rather forget. But as the country prepared for the celebration, glum wasn’t on the agenda for many, even those that had a sour year.

"We’re hoping the next year will be better," said Becky Martin, a former elementary school teacher who drove from Rockford, Ill., with her family to attend the Times Square celebration after spending a fruitless year trying to find a job. "We’re starting off optimistic and hoping it lasts."

Reminders of a trying 2011 around the globe could be seen in the multi-national faces of visitors to the so-called "Crossroads of the World" this week.

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Asked how his 2011 went, a Japanese tourist who gave his name as Nari didn’t know enough English to put it into words as he visited the square Friday, so he whipped open his phone and displayed pictures he had taken of damage wrought by the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the island nation and his home city of Sendai.

"Not a good year," he said. Then he smiled and added that things are now much better.

The annual dropping of the New Year’s Eve ball, from a flagpole 400 above the street, is taking place this year under relatively warm weather, with the temperature at midnight expected to be in the low 40s. The sphere, now decorated with 3,000 Waterford crystal triangles, has been dropping to mark the new year since 1907, long before television made it a national tradition.

Security checkpoints at the city’s bridges and tunnels were beefed up in anticipation of the celebration. The New York Police Department’s plans for protecting the city from any terrorist attack included sending 1,500 rookie officers to Times Square, where hundreds of thousands of revelers pack into closely watched pens, ringed by barricades, stretched over 17 blocks. Officers will blend into the crowd wearing street clothes. Others, some heavily armed, others wearing radiation detectors, will watch from rooftops and helicopters.

Cautious hope was the watchword elsewhere, too.

In New Orleans, crowds in the French Quarter were starting to build Friday, with New Year’s visitors rubbing elbows with college football fans flocking here for Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl matchup between Michigan and Virginia Tech.

"People are tired of being stressed and poor," said David Kittrell, a glass gallery owner from Dallas visiting the Crescent City for its New Year’s celebrations with his wife, Barbara. The couple has endured a rough few years, as the recession cut into their sales. But they said business had been getting better.

Atlanta was expecting to welcome thousands to its downtown, where a giant peach is dropped every New Year’s Eve at midnight. Fans decked out in the orange and navy blue of both the Auburn Tigers and the Virginia Cavaliers lined the streets Saturday afternoon for the Chick-fil-A Bowl parade, cheering on marching bands, floats and a pack of Star Wars stormtroopers.

Debbie Hart, 50, of Perry, Ga., was in town with her family for the bowl game. She called herself the "perpetual optimist" who believes each year will be better than the one before.

"I married a farmer. ‘Wait until next year. Next year will be better.’ That’s what I’ve been hearing for 30 years," said Hart, an Auburn fan wearing a bright orange jacket and tiger-print scarf. "I have faith."

Cities prepared for celebrations both traditional and unusual.

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