Inside the spire of the Chrysler building and other unauthorized areas
A short story based on actual events.
My room was the gathering spot for the four freshmen living in the northeast wing of Prather Hall. Almost nightly bull sessions covered all the topics that are standard for freshmen away from home for the first time. We felt so adult and wise. One night, we talked about the movie 2001. About the time HAL’s name came up, Marty burst into the room, flushed and excited.
“You won’t believe where I’ve been. There are tunnels under the campus, large enough to stand up in.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can show y’all. Come on. Let’s go exploring.”
We were intrigued and curious; we followed Marty back to the tunnel access he had just come from. Next to a power plant, we saw the open utility door, about four feet square. We climbed through it. What lay before us was just astounding: a network of utility tunnels running in multiple directions, probably connecting every building to the steam and power plants located around campus. Several nights over a period of a couple months, different groups of dorm mates would go spelunking.
I had met Andrea in a freshman class. We went to UT football games together. We became closer as a couple while going to fraternity parties. Andrea often went by Andy. On an early date, I told Andy about the tunnels and suggested we go exploring. An unusual date. Andy was intrigued.
"Okay I'm game."
Once underground, we stopped to talk about something, We don't remember what. Lit by a few bare bulbs strung along the ceiling above some pipes, there were eerie shadows and pockets of dark. When we turned to go back the way we came, there was a man standing about twenty feet down the tunnel, just still and silent, standing there and staring at us. We were spooked.
“Damn, who’s that? Hello.”
Absolute silence, other than some drips of water echoing off the concrete. A few steps away from the stranger, I turned around and looked back down the tunnel. Were we being followed? The tunnel, as far as I could see, was completely empty.
“Hey, Andy, there’s no body there. Look.”
We saw no man and no other means of egress other than running straight ahead down the long tunnel and we would've seen and heard somebody running away. We turned to escape to above ground, stumbling into each other to get out. We were through exploring for that night.
The Chrysler spire
The Macy’s Parade was more spectacular and larger than we imagined. Building size balloons towered high overhead. So surreal that it didn’t make logical sense. But, there we were, right above us. Visitng Andy, I was in New York City for Thanksgiving week. So far this trip, we experienced the city from the deck at the World Trade Center, a taping of Letterman, and American Buffalo with Al Pacino. One brisk and blue Manhattan afternoon, walking to the Fifth Ave Public Library, we passed the Chrysler Building.
"Let's go inside and look around!"
Andy was hesitant, but my confidence and urging drew her in and she followed. She was glad she did. The lobby and the elevator doors, each inlaid with wood from all over the globe were meticulous in their detail and execution. On a whim, we got in one and punched a button for the top floor. How cool would it be to look around the private club or the observation room that was once in the spire, where stainless steel arches were punctuated by triangular windows.
Andrea grew up in Texas and was one of the brightest students in her large urban high school. Of the grad school scholarships she was offered, she accepted the one to study at Columbia University in New York City. The city slowly grew on her. She made good friends there. After completing her MFA and an exhaustive search, she looked for any decent job; so she could stay in the city. With a good job offer from a company in Midtown, she decided to look for an apartment. She never returned to Texas, except to visit her family. The fear instilled in her by her conservative parents had encouraged her to obey, play by the rules, and avoid confrontation. However, the openness and diversity of the city helped her see that most of her fears were not based on rational thought. She became a new person in the energy that drives Manhattan.
I was a Professor of Design History in Oklahoma, an amateur off-site NYC historian, and a New Yorkophile. I fell in love with the big city within hours of a college study tour. I felt grounded - these were my people, this was my place. If not for a teaching job that I loved, I would have also moved to the city. I was enveloped by fundamentalist roots in Oklahoma, similar to Andy in Texas. As a teacher of design, I embraced and encouraged students, and myself, to be more open to exploration and discovery. I was proud of being a rulebreaker. Andy and I did make a great team. I admired the steadfastness and stability she enjoyed. She respected and admired my zest for life. I helped her overcome her resistance of going into unauthorized places.
The Chrysler Building opened in 1931 with Celestial, a star-themed observatory on the 71st floor, at the base of the spire. There were views of the city from all four sides for 50¢. Celestial closed in 1945. Below the Celestial, on floors 66 to 68, was the Cloud Club. Initially designed for use by Texaco (Texas Company), only men were allowed to enter. The club had a barber shop, lockers for members to store their own alcohol, and a wood-paneled bar that hid the alcohol during Prohibition. There was a stock ticker for the high powered financiers. The Cloud Club closed in 1979.
As shown in maps and satellite views, the footprint of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan has an odd angle on its eastern boundary that doesn't respect the alignment of the Manhattan street grid. Most unusual. This piqued my curiosity. Most people weren't aware of the angle and those few that were did not know why that side of the building was at an angle.
Historic maps show a country road angling northeast where the Chrysler would later be built. That was the old Boston Post Road, which snaked up past the farms and pastures on the east side, mostly between today’s Third and Second Avenues. Along this road was carried news of the Declaration of Independence to Connecticut and Boston. After the street grid was established in 1811, the city transferred titles of the Boston Post roadbed to buyers. I overlaid a current map of the streets around the Chrysler Building with the older map. There was a perfect match of the Chrysler Building and the route of the Colonial-era road. For some long lost reason, the owners of those adjacent lots kept their shared property line. Thus the odd angle on the side of the building. The Streetscapes columnist for The New York Times confirmed my research, assumption, and conclusion.
The top elevator button read 82. Wow, that has to be up in the spire, I surmised. Andy nodded hesitantly, although she, too, was excited by out potential destination. We were close to the very top. On 82, we stepped into a hallway that was only large enough to hug the perimeter of the elevator shaft. We realized we sure might be in the crown of the building. We tried a door - it opened (this was well before increased security). I stepped in, Andy right behind me, and we wandered through the abandoned spaces. There were remnants of Art Deco details in the wallpaper, on light fixtures, and randomly peeking through the worn carpet. The soles of New York’s elite and powerful had once walked on these very fibers. I, and soon, Andy, gazed out the triangular windows to the city reaching out from below us. We felt honored and humbled when we realized how few people saw the inside of this iconic spire.
The Yucatan Observation deck
In Cancún, on the first day of Spring Break, Andy and I rented a car and drove inland to see the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá. Our flights from Oklahoma and La Guardia met at DFW and we flew together from there to Cancún. We checked in at the hotel next to the site and spent the afternoon exploring the former Mayan complex. Dominating Chichén Itzá is the Temple of Kukulcán. The step pyramid stands almost 100 feet high with a 20 foot high temple on the summit. A Pre-Columbian observation deck.
Around the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, in the late afternoon, a corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the balustrade that evokes the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase, which some scholars have suggested is a representation of the feathered-serpent deity, Kukulcán. Today, a sound and light show replicates that phenomenon.
Back to the hotel for Corona cervesas, dinner, and later that night, the Sound & Light show for an entertaining view of the Mayan grounds and buildings. Mexican time is often on its own schedule. Things happen when its time, not always when the schedule dictates. This, however, was an unusually long wait. Suddenly, all the lights went out. We thought the show was beginning. Staff appeared and apologized. Several times. Finally, someone stepped up to announce that they were unable to restore power. Turns out, the outage covered most of the Yucatan peninsula. Amid the groans of the crowd, Andy and I started to walk back to the hotel with only moonlight guiding us. As we got closer to the large pyramid, I looked at the staircase and turned to Andy,
“We’ve gotta climb to the top.”
There was no barrier or signage stopping us. It might not have mattered even if there were. Andy paused to consider the decision, but was encouraged when I was already several steps up the stone staircase. She followed. She felt more at ease when she looked back down and saw the line of tourists who were following us up the steep steps.
She sat on the top stone step next to me. According to urban folklore, there were likely sacrifices right where we were sitting. Although later archaeologists found no evidence of that - sacrifices were more likely at ground level where sacrificial boys were thrown in a cenote, a sinkhole, thought to be the portal to the underworld. We sat mesmerized by the still night, a dome of bright stars overhead, and the treetops of the Yucatan jungle lit only by the full moon. The experience of looking over the top of the jungle by moonlight was so worth the climb and the effort. Climbing the pyramid has been banned since 2008 by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History.
On the gargoyle balcony
A decade later, guiding a NYC Study Tour of college students, the wide-eyed students huddled up against the Chrysler building along 42nd Street. Some New Yorkers get a bit perturbed if too many tourists block or impede their hurried movement to wherever they’re going. So the students flattened themselves against the wall along 42nd Street. I spoke briefly about the history of the building.
I had been up into the spire at the top of the building and I wanted to try it again, this time with the college students. I shared a plan while on the sidewalk.
• I described the lobby layout, the location of the guard station and the shortest route to an elevator.
• We had to look like we belonged in the building. One can often get into unauthorized areas by simply appearing that they belong there or that they are authorized.
“Put away all cameras, maps, food, and anything else that screams ‘tourist’.”
• Act professional, as if we were heading to a meeting in the building. Avoid eye contact, appear engrossed in thought. Walk briskly with a purpose.
• Notice the surroundings, but do not gawk.
Once we were ready, I held open the door, let our group enter, and walked to the front to lead them through the lobby. We made it past the guards. As we approached the bank of elevators, I heard the familiar ding announcing the arrival of an elevator. This gave me a sense of urgency and purpose. Only a couple of people got off and we slid inside the cab while I hurriedly punched the top floor button. The sooner those doors closed, the sooner I would sigh my relief. We rode up in awed silence, admiring the woodworking craftsmanship of the walls and ceiling. Floor 82 was no longer accessible, the button did not even light up. Nor did any of them between 82 and 71. On the 65th floor, the button I finally pushed, was the Tunisian Consulate. The door was locked. There was an intercom to speak to someone. Maybe a receptionist or security. I stumbled over my unusual request and emphasized the notion of students in the big city. No luck. Dejectedly, I turned to the students,
"Well, we tried.”
We went back to the elevator.
On the way down, two professional women joined us - they were sympathetic to our mission - design students seeking to explore the top of the building.
"Oh, we work on the 71st floor, go back up and ask Colleen.”
Colleen was their receptionist. On the 71st floor are the balconies with protruding gargoyles that help distinguish the Chrysler Building from other skyscrapers. Excitement showed in our thanks to the women. Approaching the lobby level, I urged the students to squeeze into the corner that was least visible to the guards. Seeing a group get off the elevator and go right back up would be a red flag that I didn’t want to risk. No one else got on, I rapidly punched two buttons, 71 and Close Doors.
On the 71st floor, there was no hall or lobby, the elevator doors opened directly into the reception desk and Colleen. She looked at us, somewhat surprised by the group and somewhat bothered by the interruption. She was reluctant to let anyone onto the balcony. The only access was through the boardroom windows, and she was preparing for a meeting there in a few minutes. I and the students, of course, cared about none of that. I let the students do the pleading. Colleen relented, asked us to keep the visit to a few minutes, and led us through the boardroom to the window access to the balcony.
It was spectacular. The sun was setting on the towers of Manhattan. The huge stainless steel gargoyles were magnificent in their majestic Deco styling. It was a breathtaking treat. I had promised Colleen we would not stay out there long, so we climbed back through the open window into the boardroom, apologetically shrugged to the two early arrivals in their suits, and thanked Colleen profusely. On down to the lobby, walking smugly past the guards and back to the streets of New York City.
The Ed Sullivan Theater
There was an open door on 53rd Street at Broadway in New York City, on the side of CBS Studio 50, later renamed The Ed Sullivan Theater. Curious, I went right in. The auditorium was somewhat of a mess - wood, tools, and debris - clearly a construction site. I stepped up to the stage. As I took my first stop onto the mostly barren stage, a voice called out,
I played dumb and didn’t answer. An unassuming security guard walked down the aisle and joined me on the stage. He declared that no one was supposed to be in there. Ignoring that trite statement, I began asking him questions; referring to the construction and mess,
"What's going on here?"
I had read that security guards in empty buildings often get lonely and hungry for human contact and conversation. Engaging him in banter, I hoped, would allow me more time to look around.
The guard tersely explained that this was the new set for David Letterman. He seemed a bit surprised that I didn't know that. Letterman had just left NBC, where Andy and I had watched a taping, and had recently signed a contract with CBS which promised remodeling the theater just for David’s talk show. The security guy was younger so he was fascinated and starstruck by the Letterman set. I, too, was somewhat fascinated by Letterman’s set, but not nearly as much as I was by the fact that I was standing on the very stage where The Beatles held their first US performance in 1964. I looked out and recognized details in the theater auditorium that I had seen on the Ed Sullivan show on that Sunday night. I also told him that Elvis, Buddy Holly, and most stars of the 1960s had been on this very stage. Sure enough, the guard seemed to enjoy talking with me and our conversation lasted long enough for me to embrace this special auditorium.
An abandoned Megamall
Prestonwood Town Center, a mega-mall with 5 anchor stores, ice skating, and movie theaters, had closed and was abandoned. I and a friend, Seth, went into Neiman's (the last store to move out) to a temporary plywood wall blocking the entrance to the mall. A gap, just large enough to squeeze through, begged our admittance. It wasn’t an entry - there was no statement, Authorized Personnel Only. The gap was likely left by a construction crew or a security guard. We scanned for witnesses, then slid on in through the opening, just wide enough to let us in, one at a time, if one turned sideways and exhaled. Entering the open, two-story space, we had the full run of the large mall in its quiet neglected state. We each shared fond memories of the busy mall and were now walking the same paths, but the shops and walkways were completely empty. The only sounds came from our footsteps and echoed quiet voices. Even the large clocktower in the center court was silent and still. The natural light coming in from the skylights cast a soft ambiance; eerie, and fascinating.
Seth wrestled with concern about getting caught.
“Shouldn’t we get out of here?”
“The odds are good the worst that will happen is they ask us to leave. And we will. We can talk our way out of most other consequences.”
Seth admired my bravado. He felt better believing that I would take care of any trespassing issue. Just then, we heard a door open, and hard staccato footsteps, like from an authority figure. I suggested,
“It seems to be coming from the side entry, about 6 or 8 stores away.”
We ducked into a gap, a recess between the former J Crew and Banana Republic, to hear which direction the mystery intruder was going. Seth was eager to get back to Nieman’s and out of the space. It didn’t feel as enthralling as it did earlier.
The footsteps got quieter. We each exhaled relief. Noting Seth’s discomfort, I suggested we go. Seth was already on his way to the opening in the plywood.
The Yiddish Theater District
I had been in a NYC for two days before I called Andy. We met in Union Square and got caught up. Andy, looking a bit uncomfortable, referenced Paul, her new boyfriend. I had some hopes of us getting back together. The long distance, and now, Paul, confirmed that would remain just a wish. I felt somewhat dejected, but I didn’t let it show. I did want to remain good friends with Andrea. But it was now a forbidden love.
As we walked the Lower East Side, heading uptown, Andy shared with me that we were approaching where Philip Glass lived. He was one of my favorite composers and pianists. I was like a child seeing Santa or any other person bearing gifts. We must have looked like any number of tourists gawking at a celebrity in the city. Though most tourists would not recognize this one by sight, or even by much of his music. His huge library of work includes the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy, Hamburger Hill, The Thin Blue Line, Candyman, The Truman Show, and Dracula. Philip Glass is a prolific composer whose compositions exude minimalism, a music format based on repetitive phrases and rich layers of calm joy and introspection.
As we neared the corner, Andy noticed someone walking by the second floor window.
“Hold it. That’s him.”
Sure enough, through the window of a nondescript low-rise building near Second Avenue, Andy and I could see his head and shoulders for brief glimpses as he walked in and out of view. Glass seemed deep in discussion another person, unseen, but likely. I had to get a photo. So, I did. I had overcome the awkwardness of peeking into someone’s personal space.
Continuing on our exploration uptown on Second Avenue, we got to 6th Street and suddenly stopped. On the busy sidewalk, I recognized that the banking lobby on our left was originally for the Fillmore East, rock promoter Bill Graham's companion to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. This very corner was the center of east coast psychedelic music culture from 1968 to 1971.
The theatre was originally built in 1926 as the Commodore. This section of Second Avenue was the Yiddish Theater District, which once had more than a dozen theaters. When Bill Graham took over the theatre in 1968, it was unused and had fallen into disrepair. A few of the bands that played in the theater where Andy and I stood: Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Chicago, Ike & Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and The Who. Most were accompanied by psychedelic light shows. The Fillmore was razed for an apartment building, only the marquee and lobby remain, now used as the bank.
Harrison Wiseman, designer of the Commodore, designed another Yiddish Theater, now the Village East Cinema. Andy and I stopped to admire the ornate old theater. We were at the corner of Second and 12th. This was the last surviving theater from the Yiddish Theater era; alumni include composers George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Admiring the building was not enough, though, I had to get inside. I confidently opened a door and walked up a brief ramp to the ticket taker standing in an opening in the velvet rope swags. Andy stayed in her comfort zone and hung back at the entrance. She knew New York City better than me and thought, ‘He won’t get in.’ She knew that strangers don’t get to just walk into closed spaces without a ticket or authorization. I had neither.
Andy was glancing around the ornate entryway when she noticed a well-dressed woman walk out from the left and up to the ticket taker. Andy could see me gesture our desire. She was sure that the manager was explaining why I couldn’t go in without a ticket, even to ‘just look around’. She was about to smugly go back out to Second Avenue. I gestured to her to come on up. I had a slight grin. She was unconvinced. Maybe they just want to share some theater stories with us. Before she could get halfway up the ramp, the manager and I were already walking towards the auditorium door. She was in awe that I had pulled this off. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in New York City. She got to us in time to hear the manager share the story of the theater.
This was the Jaffe Theater, completed in 19226 by Louis Jaffe, a lawyer, developer and prominent Jewish leader. It was once the home of the Yiddish Art Theater, which produced many creative and influential figures of the American stage. Later, the theater was a vaudeville house, then an off-Broadway theater, housing the original productions of“Grease” and “Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” each of which went on to Broadway.
Our host knew her stuff, maybe she had done this before. The three of us turned left and walked down a dark hallway to a pair of entrance doors. She was about to open the door when I whispered to her that I was uncomfortable interrupting the movie in progress. I didn’t want to disturb the viewers. The manager nodded her understanding and, while in the hallway, shared some more history.
“The 1,252-seat theater was completed at a cost of one million dollars. You’ll see ornamentation with a variety of motifs - Moorish, Islamic, and Judaic references. The most significant sight, however, is the ornate and colorful ceiling, regarded as one of the most remarkable works of plaster craftsmanship in New York City.”
It seemed to me that this lady was proud of her theater and enjoyed showing it off. We had hit upon the right person.
Stepping inside the auditorium, I better understood why the manager wasn’t too concerned - the rear orchestra had been walled off to form two additional theaters. We were standing in front of that wall, right beneath the balcony overhang. The audience was back and above our heads. We weren’t visually disturbing. I looked up to see the beautifully restored ceiling detail. An elaborate circular medallion within which is a Star of David and an elaborate double-tiered metal chandelier. I relaxed and enjoyed the beauty and craftsmanship of what we were able to experience.
When we stepped back into the city, Andy asked me,
“How do you do that? How do you talk your way into places that are off-limits?”
I was already heading over to the Astor Place Subway station. She didn’t get an answer. yet.
Union Square roof dome
I didn’t need to text that I was in Union Square - that is where we met every time I was in the city. Often at the sunlit statue of Mohandas Gandhi, but this time under the shade of the trees around the statue of Abe Lincoln. Andy and Paul lived farther uptown and it was an easy train ride for each of us to get to Union. Not named after the Union army, or work unions, it was simply a reference to the open area where several streets and avenues joined and passed on through. A union of streets. It was a beautiful New York day in the park, a welcome respite from city bustle. Andy was already sitting on the bench closest to the statue.
Walking along 14th Street, I passed the site of the Jefferson Theatre, a vaudeville venue that featured the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Jack Benny, and Fred Allen. George Burns called it 'the toughest house in New York.' It is now just an empty lot. I entered Union Square by the chess players, lunchers, and activists; along the tree-lined sidewalks up to the border with the Union Square Market. I turned towards the Abe Lincoln statue and easily spotted Andy. People watching is one of the main social events in the city. We sat on the bench and covered current events, personal updates, and what to do with the day in the city. It had been a while since I was last in the city; we had a lot to catch up on. After about 10 minutes of back and forth chatter, I turned to look at her, but she was distracted by something I hadn’t seen before. On top of the three story building just beyond her gaze was what looked like a partial geodesic dome.
“Look at that!”, she said, interrupting me. It would be the starting point of that day’s adventures and we knew we would continue our conversation as we wandered the neighborhood.
I had an app that gave concise histories of buildings along major Manhattan streets, such as this one on Union Square East. The Tammany Hall Building, erected in 1929 for the Tammany Society, was an influential club for Democratic officials. Named after Chief Tamanend, a lover of peace and friendship, of the Lenape who originally occupied New York City, Tammany Hall extensively used Native American titles and terminology - their headquarters was called the Wigwam. To appear more majestic and important, the building design was inspired by Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. Tammany built a loyal, well-rewarded core of precinct leaders, but also was a base for graft and political corruption, most famously under William "Boss" Tweed.
Often, the Wigwam was used for other unions' events: firefighters, sanitation workers, the United Federation of Teachers, newspaper deliverers, drivers of taxicabs, and Teamsters. That may be why many people think Union Square was named after the unions. Tammany Hall lost its influence in the 1930s; the building was sold to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1943. The auditorium became the Union Square Theatre; the Theater District was on its decades-long march from Second Avenue uptown to 42nd Street.
“Let’s see if we can get up there.”
Her reaction was to squelch this notion. As usual, she felt sure that we wouldn’t be able to gain access. But she also knew that I had a way of getting what I wanted. So she smiled slight approval to the plan. We crossed the street while simultaneously avoiding cars and gazing up to the roof. I noticed that the first floor was vacant with For Lease placards in the windows. She checked a couple doors. I explained that the way to the roof would not likely be along the street as that footage facing Union Square was prime retail space. There were some signs of construction but we could see no people inside. We walked along the side street and I guessed our way in would be through the last door towards the back of the building. That door was propped open. I walked right in. She held back for a second.
The deep rectangular room was empty except for a desk that looked like any desk from a public school. Sitting at the desk was Celia, wearing a security uniform and busy eating her takeaway salad lunch. I acknowledged her authority and, after introductions said,
“Hey, this is a great building. And, there’s a dome on the roof!”
Celia was nodding - she seemed pleasantly sociable. We all chatted a bit. Then, I got back to the dome.
“Can we go up and see the roof space?”
Celia apologized and said the building was open only for workers.
“I can’t let you up there.”
As I often did when I entered a forbidden zone, I didn’t let that sway our mission. I simply responded,
“Sure, you can.”
That was a bold move, even for me. It wasn’t a planned tactic. It was just one of positive affirmation, like a mysterious Jedi force, and it worked. We all chuckled, maybe due to discomfort or maybe because of my brashness and determination, but still a chuckle. We had made a connection. Celia paused and smiled,
“Okay, I’m gonna take you guys up there.”
She put her fork down, walked around the desk, and moved the small concrete block that was holding the door open. The door clicked its status as Locked. She led Andy and I to the elevator in the back corner. While riding up, Celia revealed that, once the building got its preservation status, renovation preserved the facade while gutting the interior for office and retail spaces and adding a glass dome to the roof. She was sounding like a tour guide now, and, for the moment, she was. The dome has more than 12,000 square feet of glass; and was designed with classical proportions when observed from Union Square. The dome was completed a year ago, but no one has yet leased the space.
The doors opened and within two steps out of the elevator the majesty of the space overwhelmed us. We could only manage a stuttered
It was beautiful. The views of the sky, from a large column-free room in the city, and the nature from the park in front of us. One could see no cars, trucks, or busy sidewalks. Just freedom, sun, sky, and trees. We stepped over a few tools and a small stack of drywall to let the space intrude upon us. We were on top of the former Tammany Hall. Across the park was the Decker Building where Andy Warhol had his studio, The Factory.
Back in the elevator, we raved about such a unique space for the Union Square neighborhood. Thanking Celia and letting her get back to her lunch, we returned to the chaos of the city.
We crossed Union Square to a coffee shop nearby for our afternoon jolt. Something was on Andy’s mind, but she refrained from sharing until we found a table. The line wasn’t too long. We placed our orders and sat in the back area that has a view of a courtyard. We barely sat down when our names were called. Andy picked up our Americano and Cold Brew, each with heavy cream, and two oatmeal raisin cookies. She didn’t want to talk more about current events or the city. She sincerely wanted to know what gave me the confidence to get into places where I shouldn’t. Where I’m not allowed. Where I’m not authorized. Places that are forbidden.
“How do you do that?”
She caught me mid-bite - a muffled,
“We just got into a closed construction site in Manhattan. Hardly anybody can do that. You did it with ease. How do you do that?”
I hadn’t really thought about it before. It just seemed to be my nature. Her question made me curious,
“Maybe it is from teaching problem solving and creativity for 25 years. Creative people must be willing to try new things, take risks, and see the world differently. We go places we’ve not been before. That help?”
“Yeah, a little. Not many adults still have that attitude.”
“Things that are easy for children - awe, wonder, curiosity, and exploration. But how do you get past the barriers?”
I paused to take another bite and a sip. Andy waited patiently.
“I often authorize myself to enter forbidden spaces (the signs never clarify Authorized by whom). To me, the words Forbidden and Prohibited are just descriptors, not regulations.”
Andy had a scrunchy face look of confusion. I continued,
“Here’s a tip: When seeking permission, find and speak with the decision maker who can authorize. If you can’t find that person, then cautiously do it anyway.”
“Like the old phrase, it may be better to beg forgiveness than to seek permission.”
“Sure, but I rarely have to even beg forgiveness.”
“Do our fears hold us back and encourage us to follow the rules?”
“Maybe. But, great experiences often happen outside one’s comfort zone.”
She was looking for something more specific,
“We’ve been to some great places: inside the Chrysler spire, the old Yiddish Theater, Tammany Hall roof deck. Think how few native New Yorkers have been to any of those places, much less all of them.”
“I also try to convey a non-threatening demeanor. To help put the person at ease. And I smile, sincerely.”
“Okay, sure, that makes sense.”
I paused again, ignoring my coffee. This dialogue was more intriguing.
“I also try to get people to laugh. Laughter provides a connection and eases some tension.”
Andy had lots to think about. She knew she often held herself back. She has probably missed out on some great adventures. We both sat in silence, enjoying the background music and the snacks. After a while, I offered,
“Lets head uptown to see what we can find.”
The tunnels under campus:
Inside the Chrysler Building spire:
The Chrysler angled plot line:
The gargoyle balcony:
The pyramid at Chichén Itzá by moonlight:
The Ed Sullivan Theater
The clocktower at Prestonwood Center in better days:
Tammany Hall roof, upper right:
Green Park and the fence at Buckingham Palace:
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