I’m sitting on the very top floor of Rockefeller Center, 70 stories from ground level. There is a shallow shelf facing south, and I’ve claimed it as my own, my legs cross-legged and out of the way of passersby who walk from one end of the viewing area to the other.
The sun is unrelenting and hot on my shoulders; I have no doubt that I’m being sunburned. The humidity has covered me like a sticky flannel blanket since I arrived in New York City, and this afternoon is no different, especially now that I don’t have the towering buildings to shade me from the glare. Sitting on top of one of the city’s highest buildings, I have little choice but to embrace the sun rather than cower from it.
Below me, the buildings are lined up in straight rows. The maze of streets between them isn’t a maze at all; just a perfectly symmetrical grid with toy-sized cars vying for the right-of-way. I can’t see people on the street from where I am, but I know they’re rushing from subway stops to buildings and packed into the cabs.
One building blends into the next into the next, but each has a distinct personality, trying to create its own creative sphere in an otherwise uniform space. They are different heights and colors, have different window shapes and signage, but there are so many they simply become one jumbled mess of busy city.
From 70 stories up, I can’t hear honking, but I can hear a hum that hangs over Manhattan. A heavy haze is low on the horizon, but I can still spot the Statue of Liberty.
Sweat drips down my cleavage. I fight the urge to wipe my sunglasses on my shirt; that will only smear the condensed sweat around the rims.
As I sit on this shelf, person after person and couple after couple tries to take photos of themselves. They’re angling the cameras to catch the Empire State Building in the background (my guess is they are generally unsuccessful … I tried to do the same). I watch the girls tuck their hair behind their ears—which immediately blows back into their faces—as they ham it up for the camera. When couples strike a pose, the women lean into the men, who are always tasked with the actual picture taking.
After offering and taking photos for half a dozen people, I retreat back to my shelf and marvel at another strange photographic feat: People pretending they are holding / leaning on / squishing the Empire State Building. Cliche and uncreative. Who do these people think they are? King Kong?
Perhaps my mind is on overload with the sheer number of buildings and incredible amount of stuff spread out across the landscape in front of me, but one of the things I find most interesting are the strange pay-per-use binoculars set up around the perimeter of the viewing area. I wonder how much these binoculars have seen over the years. They look out over the city every day, but it’s probably the people—the mother who freaks out when her kids go within five feet of the edge, the German-speaking man who takes the same picture at least 20 times, the backpack-touting tourist who is already reading about the next site in his guidebook—that provide the most interesting subjects for viewing.
My tank top sits uncomfortably against my shoulders. I scribble a few final thoughts in my notepad and take a long drink of water from my water bottle. And then I just sit for a minute, watching these people who have come from around the world, sharing in this moment together, yet oblivious to each other’s presence.
Then I slip off of the shelf and head toward the elevator, just another person who has visited the top of Rockefeller Center.