Yesterday was my birthday. I took the day off, dusting off my faithful "quarter-Jewish" card and claiming Pesach exemption. I spent the morning watching America's Next Top Model, which my mother lovingly taped for me (What? It's a really good show!) and eating chocolate. Then I met my friend Meredith for a picnic lunch in Murray Hill. She is awesome, and just got into grad school.
At three o'clock I met my main squeeze, Jeff, for a trip to the top of the Empire State building. Neither of us had ever been before. I am ashamed to admit that, as a native New Yorker and "Sleepless in Seattle" aficionado, I honestly believed that one could simply step into an elevator at ground level and go straight up to the top. As an avid consumer, I should have known better.
For those who haven't been to the top of the Empire State building, or who haven't been in awhile, let me tell you: it is INSANE in there. It's like one minute you're on 5th Avenue smelling hot dogs and steam and the next you are in corporate Disney Land, only with no actual rides, only lines. After a brief, unclogged trip up an escalator, the first line you happen upon snakes around the second floor about 40 times and leads you around a partition to ... another line, that snakes around about 40 more times and leads you to ... the security checkpoint! Once it has been established that you have no firearms or explosives, you get to run down a narrow hallway to ... another line, that snakes around 60 or so times and finally leads you to the ticket area, which has 6 windows but only 4 employees. Of course, in keeping with code standards, one lone fat man types on a keyboard in one of the "CLOSED" windows so that you are forced to ask yourself, as you wait a half mile away, Why isn't that guy selling tickets?
After you buy your tickets, you move to another line in which you wait for the elevator. Finally, unbelievably, you find yourself actually inside of an elevator, and you watch as the numbers jump ten at a time. You are almost there - almost there! - when the bell rings and the doors swing open at the 80th floor and an attendant guides you to the left, saying, "Only six more floors to go, folks." Then you find yourself being funneled into yet another line, the sole purpose of which is to force you to have your photo taken against a fake backdrop of the Empire State building, and you suddenly totally understand why the security check was done first. Since it was my birthday and I had no where else to be, I was admirably Zen about the annoying lines, but I have to say that I think it's awful to add 20 minutes to people's wait time just to take a photograph that you will try to force them to buy for $20. You don't even get a choice -- you MUST have your photograph taken, even if you're by yourself. Then, as you're nearing what you think is the end of the line, there is a display that strongly urges that you buy an audio guide so that you'll know what you're looking at. The voice on the audio guide is advertised as "Tony, a real New Yorker." Apparently Tony is a ladies man: "I instantly fell in love with Tony," reads a testimony from Audrey of Hannibal, MO. Tony is also an impressive linguist, as he speaks French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and, of course, Long Island.
After some time you are herded into a second elevator and a moment later you are there, on the 86th Floor observation deck. If you can squeeze your way past the gift shop, you will eventually hit fresh air, and I have to say that once you get outside it's totally worth it. The views are amazing, and it feels like another world, albeit a world that still has lots of tourists. The city looks just as impressive from above as it does from down in the streets. The late afternoon sunlight hitting New Jersey made even the Hudson look kind of glorious.
Sadly, Jeff and I had to jet to make sure to be on time for my family's annual Seder for the Marginally Jewish. We passed up purchasing our obligatory photo, but were overjoyed to discover that the trip back down dropped us off at the lobby, where we spilled out, grateful to be back on the ground, and out of line.