CHICAGO – I'd trace my love of tall buildings to growing up in New York, but I doubt one has anything to do with the other.
My childhood visits to the observation decks at the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center were fun, but the crowds at ESB and places like Chicago's Willis Tower and Hancock Center are proof that I'm in no way unique in my love at looking at the world from high above.
It's been a couple decades since I scaled (well, rode the elevator up) what was then called the Sears Tower. Back then, the 108-story building was still the world's tallest at 1,451 feet. Since 2009, the soaring black tower designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, has been called the Willis Tower.
The modernist building, completed in 1973, lost its title as the world's tallest 11 years earlier when the Petronas Twin Towers were erected in Kuala Lumpur. It is, however, still the tallest in the U.S. and, I assume, the entire North American continent, and seventh tallest in the world.
This weekend, I returned to ride the super-fast elevator up to the Skydeck once again. (Tip: invest in the Fast Pass, so you can skip the long lines.) In large part I went back so that I could test my mettle by stepping out onto the Ledge: one of three plexiglass boxes that jut out the west side of the building. Even the floor is transparent.
Whenever I have to climb a ladder to change a light bulb high above the garage door or clean leaves out of the gutters, I think of myself as being afraid of heights – though for my urban spelunking stories I have climbed circular staircases and old wooden ladders surrounded by nothingness, straight up into high, dark places – and I figured stepping out on to the Ledge would help me face this fear, sorta.
After waiting in a bit of a line, I stepped out and though I wasn't frightened, I did feel a little unsteady, almost like I might lose my balance due to the "lack" of a floor.
Looking down was unreal. Sure, it's far, but just like looking out the big panels of glass that line the entire Skydeck, there's a feeling that it's not really ... real. After all, the people look like ants and the vehicles like Matchbox cars.
I'd be super proud of myself for "taking the plunge" – so to speak – if it weren't for the fact that all around me tots toddled out like it was nothing, giggling the whole time.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.