View from The Top

by Lucas Thomas

The buildings, when bunched together in such a manner, all seemed to reach the same point. I wasn’t sure if I was seeing the tops of them as I looked up, or if that was simply as much as I could see before the sky got to them. In that regard it was impossible to tell the difference between fifty stories and 110 stories.

“Look up,” my uncle said, “we’re here.”

We went inside of course. This was my first family vacation, and I was twelve years old. I’ve always had a fascination with cities and tall buildings that I’ve never been able to explain, so at this point I’d reached the ultimate attraction. The plan was to get to the top before lunchtime and view the Greatest City in the World from its apex. We picked the perfect day for it, 90 degrees and barely a cloud in sight. It was tough to believe that it was still the morning, and I couldn’t imagine the sun being more radiant than it already was.

From the lobby we climbed a set of stairs to the “upper lobby” (maybe?) and got on the elevator. It was swift and efficient, I remember that much. With all those stories to service, it had to be. We stopped somewhere around the 80th floor of our ascent. The floor we stopped on was designed for tourists like us. The walls were windows; and when you pressed against them and tried to look down, you couldn’t see the bottom. What you could see were the tops of massive buildings being dwarfed by the one I was in. My father pressed his face against the thick glass window and observed.

“I can see why this would be a prime target for terrorists,” were his exact words. “If this baby comes down, all these ones around it are coming down too.” My uncle nodded in agreement. “They oughta stuff parachutes on these upper floors, y’know worst-case scenario type deal in case people had to jump.”

In the coming days–which too quickly blended into years–I gave his comments a lot of thought. I still think about how in a curious way I was comforted by what he said. The horror of the thought was dwarfed by the improbability of it. Recalling the moment in which he said that, I remember how impressionable I was. The imagery was powerful: people leaping out of windows with a peculiar sense of relief on their faces. Floating at the mercy of the wind like a piece of paper…to their safety. Luckily they had the parachutes.

Being inside the building provided a feeling that’s difficult to describe. All I can say is that I was inside and I was certain that nothing in the world was more indestructible. Vacation wise, it provided the awe factor that my brother and I had yet to really experience. We walked around that floor for a bit. The city below was nothing more than a computer chip. Metallic grid complimented by scattered vibrant colors, and with undeniable exactness in its structure.

We reached the observatory deck, our initial destination. About a half hour after entering the building, we once again were outside. Only this time it was 1,362 feet in the sky. Still no clouds. On an ideal day like the one we were granted, the naked eye could see well into Connecticut. The real shock was that the curvature of the Earth was perfectly accentuated and on display. Mother Earth’s voluptuous bosom. It was a sight that literally made you feel on top of the world. The view of the city seemed not real to me. Actually, nothing at this point seemed real to me. It was all a blur. I was only twelve, but I’m pretty sure I was able to acknowledge the fact that I better soak in the details because only later would I truly appreciate this experience. I made note of petty details like an empty Coke can and a Cowboy hat that somebody dropped underneath the observatory deck. My brother and I walked around the roof, taking our time with the unique view that each of the four sides of the building offered. What you saw looking west was completely different than what you saw looking south, or east, or north. Before arriving I had pre-conceived notions about what the roof would be like. Was it just a wide open roof that people wandered around on at their own risk? I had lots of ideas, but they were just that. Ideas. Thoughts. Assumptions. Nothing to that point in my life had given me the wisdom to know any of these answers. I truly was experiencing this moment in the way I imagine the designers of the building had hoped people would. It all culminated when you looked down Fifth Avenue–like you were looking down a long and narrow hallway–and saw the Empire State Building…Manhattan’s former king.

I felt like staying up there forever. The antenna that topped off the other twin was a sight in itself. Everything about these towers was massive. No other word can be used. Just overwhelming and utter mass. It gave a false sense of security. I would soon learn how false, but for the time being I was content. It was September 8th, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect day.