I am an American, New York-born. John Lindsay's name is on my birth certificate (although not as a claim to paternity). I've spent the majority of my life in this area. And like so many of us here in town, I've never been to the top of the Empire State Building, because, you know, it's for tourists. Also, who gives a fuck? That all changed this weekend, when, against my better judgment, I found myself on Fifth Avenue & 34th Street paying a ridiculous amount of money to look down on the city from the top of a big building in the company of several hundred non-deoderized foreigners. If you haven't been and are wavering, let me urge you not to go. It is a nightmare.
On the theory that "if it's inevitable, you may as well lay back and enjoy it," I dropped $42 on the "combination" ticket, which not only allowed access to the Observation Deck, but also provided a ticket to something called the "New York Skyride." Essentially, it's an IMAX-style movie where the floor rocks and swivels to give one the illusion of flight as the camera soars through the city to the dulcet tones of Kevin Bacon's narration, except "IMAX-style" is short for "crappy video shown on a really big screen," and the pneumatic elements of the ride would be laughable at one of those fly-by-night carnivals you see as you're on the bridge driving past the poorer of the outer-borough neighborhoods. Also, the film itself still includes the World Trade Center, as a "tribute to the spirit and resilience of New York" (and, presumably, an unwillingness to shell out any money to re-shoot).
Once we got out of that nightmare the real odyssey began. Getting to the top of the building is like some sort of torture designed by Soviet apparatchiki to crush the spirit of the citizenry. There are at least five interminable lines one waits on before one makes the final ascent (and, naturally, at each new line there's a brand new opportunity for the building's owners to take another twenty bucks from you in the form of souvenirs and digital photos). As we wended our way through the cattle-like queue on the 80th floor we cursed the fact that the Germans hadn't won the Second World War. Say what you will about them, they know how to move people through a line with ruthless efficiency.
Finally, one of the attendants came over and told us that, as it currently stood, we'd have to wait another half hour for an elevator, but we were free to take the stairs, which was a mere six flights. We jumped at the chance, and only started to regret it on the fourth "flight," a designation apparently meant by the good people at the Empire State Building to represent three separate sets of stairs. In the wake of 9/11, we spent a number of afternoons climbing down thirty stories in the building we then worked at; should someone ever hit the Empire State, it's pretty clear that no one from, say, the fiftieth floor on up is getting out alive. Cheering!
We made it to the Observation Deck, and after standing in, yes, another line, we were finally outside. Guess what? New York from the top of the Empire State Building looks pretty much like it does from every other skyscraper, except you're looking at it through a suicide-prevention cage and the couple standing next to you are jabbering in Spanish and edging you out of the way so they can get a picture of themselves making out with the East River in the background. Don't even get me started on the American tourists: Let's just say there's a reason they sell GIANT CUPS OF SODA at the entrance; God forbid Marge and Fred go a minute without sticking something sugary down their throat.
And yet, for a moment, we almost felt a kinship with them. We were all together, at the top of this iconic structure, as one mass of people all getting ripped off by the same organization. (Sort of like election day!) The feeling quickly faded as we began the tortuous process of our descent: These tubby folk deserved everything we got. As did we, to be sure. We should have known better. There's a reason New Yorkers don't do this sort of thing: It is not cool.
We're almost embarrassed to tell you that we did this, but we want you to learn from our mistakes. The next time some friend or relative comes to town and asks you to see them up, just point them in the direction of the building and retire to your own fire escape. It might not seem like much, but trust us, the view is priceless in comparison.