So around 8 pm, I walked down my stoop and headed toward the pharmacy to get something for my cold… and I found myself walking to Madison Square Park (thinking, of course, that some Shake Shack cheese fries would fix me right up).
When I arrived, I discovered a gingerbread house and a Christmas tree, and as I snapped a few pictures, my favorite building came into view. Beckoning me.
I forgot all about cheese fries (I know, right?) and began walking toward her, snapping pictures along the way.
On the corner of 5th and 33rd, I popped into a Walgreens to grab some medicine. The pharmacy was on the 2nd floor, so I hopped on the escalator. I checked out and stepped back onto the escalator.
At the bottom, I stepped off and realized I wasn’t in Walgreens anymore. I stood in an empty lobby. A doorman smiled and asked, “Are you lost young lady?” (Side bar: the cashier who checked me out called me “mommy”. I’m still in the wonderful land of “no ma’am”!). I told him I thought I was in Walgreens… and he explained that I had taken the escalator into the side lobby of the Empire State Building.
WHAT? So, I asked if it was open, and could I go to the top? I didn’t realize I was whispering (I was totally geeking out!). He leaned down and whispered that yes, it was open until 1 am, and that I needed to go around the corner and up to level 2 to purchase a ticket.
I whispered back that if I was going to do this, I really wanted to go in the main entrance. Sort of like being carried over the threshold… I wanted to do it right! He actually giggled and whispered back, “Have a great time!”
So I turned and went back up the escalator, and down the other one into Walgreens’s where I promptly pushed open the emergency exit door onto 5th Avenue, sounding the store alarm.
I ran up 5th, giggling, and turned onto 34th, wondering if anyone had followed me. What is the punishment for sounding the alarm?
I walked into the main entrance past two more doormen. I encountered a half dozen doormen before I ever saw another person. There were no people. No lines. Just quiet emptiness. It was surreal.
I bought my ticket and headed through the empty maze of red velvet rope.
I reached the elevator and got on with two other people. Our ears popped as we raced to the 80th floor.
Stepping out, I remembered this part. The enclosed observatory. This was not my final destination. I rounded the corner to find the next elevator and headed to the 86th floor.
The last time I was here was in 1982. It was during the day. Then, a hot summer wind greeted us as we pushed open the doors. Tonight the temperature was just above freezing. Clear skies. Light breeze. And only a handful of people to share the view.
I felt as if I had scored a backstage pass to my favorite band. The city was mine. I had that heady “top of the world” feeling.
I turned my camera to a live video feed and made my first pass. The second time around, I paused and took pictures at each angle. Then I put my phone away and just strolled the deck. Once. Twice. Three times.
I overheard two young men with thick accents pointing at the Hudson River and trying to find the Brooklyn Bridge. I was close enough to tap one of them, and told him it was on the other side. He asked about the river, so I happily pointed out the different rivers, bridges, buildings and landmarks.
I love knowing this city. But I realize I hardly know it. If that makes any sense. I could live here 100 years and learn something new about it every day.
I finally headed back down. Ears popping again. A perma-grin on my face (and maybe a tear or two in my eyes).
I walked through the familiar entry (now flooded with childhood memories), snapped a few more pictures, and stepped back out on the sidewalk.
The word “Believe” winked at me in gold lights from Macy’s across the street. I grinned, snapped another picture, and walked home.