Feeling High on Manhattan

Reflections on the Empire State Building's newly renovated Observatory

14 Oct 2019 | 03:07

Top of the world, ma.

That’s indeed how it feels from the Empire State Building’s newly renovated and just opened 102nd Floor Observatory. I know it sounds hokey, especially coming from a jaded New York native, but the 360 view was enough to make me cry.

From 1,224 feet in the sky, 34th Street looks clean and uncrowded; Central Park is a leafy green forest that appears protected by a fortress of stately apartment buildings; the downtown view really highlights a mix of high and low structures as well as the very new juxtaposed against the very old New York. Of course, the majestic Statue of Liberty looks the size of a charm that goes on a bracelet, but is still a comfort just the same. And the top of my favorite site — the Chrysler Building, triumphs over the box-like office buildings of midtown.

Ordinarily, a rather touristy activity such as this would make me roll my eyes; it’s too reminiscent of the trips they used to take us on in grammar school. But when I heard about the opening, something inside told me I better hightail it down Fifth Avenue to get my $58 ticket to a new perspective on NYC, because my current one from the ground was making me fall out of love with the city that’s always been a part of my soul.

Rats, Scaffolds and Jackhammers

During the summer, my husband Neil, who often walks home from work, would alert me to his nightly rat sightings, the way my daughter Meg announces when she spots a celebrity.

Empty storefronts, which have been on parade for a number of years now, have become even more prevalent, as well as depression-inducing. And don’t get me started on scaffolding. There’s a set up on almost every block, turning even a leisurely stroll into an Olympic event.

Traffic is so bad city transportation officials had to close off 14th Street to cars.

My anxieties about the state of my hometown had begun to even affect my sleep. I often dream of men in yellow hard hats. Wait, did I say dream? I meant have nightmares about them. They’re everywhere. On my Upper East Side block alone, there are high-rises going up across the street as well as next door to me. The song of summer was played by a jackhammer, and it seems I’ll have that tune in my head well through fall.

Yes, life here on our 22.7 square miles of earth was beginning to look pretty bleak to me, so I truly needed to either move or find a way to reframe my POV.

Place in Pop Culture

The enclosed 102nd story features floor to ceiling windows, whereas the 86th floor main deck is outdoors and views are somewhat obstructed by fencing. If you think that when you’re that high up the 16-story difference from one observatory to the next can’t matter much, you’d be wrong.

Honestly, I could have stayed up there all day, but space is limited and others had to get their turn.

On the way down, the elevator opens conveniently into the newly remodeled gift shop located on the second floor, which also houses the brand new interactive museum where you journey from the building’s construction roots to its current place in pop culture, replete with King Kong.

Because guests enter the Visitors Center on 34th Street, the landmark Art Deco lobby is now the finale to the Empire State Building experience, where the main wall displays an inlaid depiction of the structure itself, beams of light radiating from the mast.

New York can be a hard place to live, and can bring down even those of us who come out of the womb hailing a taxi. Thanks to a New York icon, I got to feel high on Manhattan once again.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels "Fat Chick" and "Back to Work She Goes."

When I heard about the opening, something inside told me I better hightail down Fifth Avenue to get my $58 ticket to a new perspective on NYC, because my current one from the ground was making me fall out of love with the city that’s always been a part of my soul.