Experiences in the Empire State Building

Here are some stories which I hope will sum up the tourist experience.

Today I went to the Empire State Building. I managed to sort of sleep-in this morning, so I figured if I went to the ESB it’d probably be the only thing I would end up doing that day. I had seen how bad the line could be from the last time I was in the area. So I wandered down there, and in my customary fashion, accidentally came at the building from the completely wrong side and had to walk all away around to get to the end of the line. This can be a good thing. It lets you know what you’re in for.

I had come prepared with a novel, my mp3 player, half a bottle of water and a medium coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts.

I got to the end of the line at about 11 o’clock and prepared for a long wait. It was one of those lines that struck disbelief into the hearts of bypassers. Several people stood in it for awhile thinking it was just regular foot traffic for the area. Others stormed off in a huff at the thought of a line so long. I read patiently.

As we inched up the line, we had to endure the gauntlet: a bunch of people on the street from one of the bus tour companies. They begged, bargained and cajoled anyone who would listen, promising that for a nominal fee we could jump the queue on their particular tour, and be able to see the observation deck and more! Some people went for it. To entice the others they tried scare tactics, telling us it would be a 3 hour wait on the line. That seemed to not help their cause all that much but it helped mine, as some people would throw up their hands in digust, whip their scarves around their necks and head away from this madness.

I am not as opposed to waiting as some are, but then I had come prepared. The tour people started telling us to ask the ESB staff just how long the wait would be as if to justify themselves. One lady did, and they told us it would be about 45 minutes from now. At that point we were at the entrance to the building. Ha! I thought. 3 hours my arse. Not that I would have minded all that much. I had come prepared.

The line twisted and turned inside the building like the lower intestine of a metal giant. Each time I turned a corner I smiled as the people around me groaned. It went on and on. Thankfully I had come prepared. At about 12 o’clock I passed through the metal detectors. During the wait to be processed by security, I looked out one of the second floor windows and saw something in the third floor window of the building next door. It was a man in a turban, speaking on what looked like a walkie-talkie and looking in my direction. An old English couple nearby spotted this also and started talking and joking about terrorism in hushed tones.

At 12:33 I bought my entry ticket. Here I ran the second gauntlet: the EBS staff trying to sell us city maps and audio guides. I waved one of them away and she started sassin’ me.
“What you gonna do then? When you get up there you’ll see there ain’t no signs or nothing. How you gonna know what you’re lookin’ at?”
It seemed scare tactics were the order of the day. A lot of people, unsettled by this threat of lost knowledge, reached into their wallets and purses to fork over 8 dollars for a map, 8 dollars for an audio guide, or 13 dollars for both.

At 1 o’clock I finished my novel. For this I was not prepared.

At 1:30 I got onto an elevator and thought “this is it!” The lift took me from the 2nd floor to the 60th floor in no time at all. I stepped out into the upper intestine of a metal giant. The line stretched on endlessly. I was now out of reading material, out of coffee, out of water and a little tired. My bag strap cut deeply into my shoulder like it was a spongecake. Now I was groaning along with everyone at each turn of the line. I started getting really angry inside at the people around me. Kids kept getting into my personal space and being little shits. Old people walked too slow when the line was moving. People were stepping on toes and heels. In a controlled environment, with security and concierges everywhere, people are still hopelessly unorganized. Disorderly. As we climbed a set of stairs I pondered this, and, thinking back to my trip to Ground Zero yesterday, I had a real sense of just how horrifying it would have been trying to get out of the towers on 9/11. If people are this bad when nothing’s wrong just imagine the worst nightmare situation.

Eventually I got on to a second elevator. I was skeptical, but this time I was pleasantly surprised to be actually on the observation deck on the 84th floor. The elevator from 60 to 84 took only about 5 seconds.

The view was pretty amazing, but was it worth it? I felt like the day was a bit of an anti-climax. It was good to do, but I didn’t have that sense of wonderment I had in Chicago when Chris took me to the top of the Hancock Observatory. I guess that was because it was the first time I’d been to the top of a building like that. Still, the ESB was cool. It was different to be outdoors that high up. Windy as hell, freezing, but pretty cool. There’s a certain satisfaction also in surviving the lines, and achieving a goal after enduring huge waits. I think what satisfied me the most though, was finding out I was right not to purchase a map – on each of the coin-operated binoculars up there was a list of what sights you could see from that spot. No signs up there my arse. There is a lesson in this: don’t give in to terror.

After about 20 minutes up the top, I got out of there. It was too cold to stay too long, and it was pretty crowded. I headed to the exit signs, and discovered a queue to exit the building. I was not prepared for this. A concierge said we could walk down 6 floors to the next set of elevators which would be less crowded, so I did that. 6 floors later I was sitting in an even longer line. I groaned. What a day.

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