I took the elevator to the top of this...
I took the elevator to the top of this...
...so I could look down from here.
...so I could look down from here.
The view out the windows of the Skydeck are pretty amazing.
The view out the windows of the Skydeck are pretty amazing.

Testing my mettle on the Willis Tower Ledge

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.


devidia | Aug. 28, 2012 at 12:40 p.m. (report)

I could NEVER do that!! My fear of heights is so strong that I couldn't even take the elevator to the Polaris restaurant at the top of the Hyatt downtown. Even from the inside, I couldn't handle the glass elevator and seeing, my God, all those floors going up and how high up we were (I'm sorry, but glass elevators are just WRONG!!!). The waitstaff there let me and my friend use the service elevator instead. So my hat is off to you, my friend, for accomplishing this feat. I however, will pass on it.

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