Empire State of Mind

April 28, 2024 | 701 words | 3 minute read.

I was about 4 years old the first time I went to New York City. I had already developed my life-long love affair with the story of the giant monkey who climbed the tallest building in the world, so the only landmark I knew anything about in The City was the Empire State Building. And yes, I’m old enough that it was still the tallest building in the world.

My dad drove the whole family to the east coast in the fastback that was my dad’s real baby. I’m sure that along the way I gibbered about seeing King Kong and The Building constantly. It was the only thing I wanted to do. Imagine being stuck in a car with an obsessed 4 year old for 1800 miles. I’m sure it was a pleasant trip for everyone.

Somehow my dad secured special clearance from our local congressman along the way to visit “closed to the public” places in Mt Vernon and in Washington D.C. We went into the private rooms of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, wandered the halls of the Capital Building, some off-tour rooms in the White House, and I asked the congress man if King Kong had ever been there. Again, I was 4.

Between D.C. and NYC, driving at night, a pair of headlights started chasing us and trying to run us off the road. My folks were really scared, I thought it was a grand adventure. It ended with my dad showing us how much faster his prized Plymouth was than whoever was pursuing us. I was excited that he was driving fast because it meant we’d get to New York that much sooner.

It was still dark when we arrived in NYC. We drove through Harlem and my folks were worried by the bonfires in the middle of the streets. It was the late 60s, after all, with much unrest everywhere. I peered over the window sills, afraid but excited. We were about to see King Kong’s building.

Dad maneuvered the car down Fifth Ave and pulled up to the curb in front of The Building. It was a spiritual moment for me, even if I had no concept of what that meant yet. I got out of the car and stood there looking straight up the side at all 102 stories while my dad drove around the block. Not being a complete monster, he made my mom get out of the car and stand there with me.

For 1800 miles and countless days I had fantasized about this moment. I was standing at the bottom of the tallest building in the world, right where we first learned it was beauty that killed the beast. I was in awe.

Then my dad was back, made us get in the car and we left. I was devastated. We didn’t even get to go inside, much less to the top.

I’m not 4 years old anymore, by a long shot. But I resolved on that night that I would be back. And I would go to the top. That experience and a similar one at the Space Needle in Seattle fixed my travel mantra for all my wanderlust: If I’ve come this far, I’m going to do it.

I’ve since been to the top of the Empire State Building a dozen times. It never gets old. My most recent trip was just a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately Tim agrees with the whole “we’re here, let’s do it” thing, so we rarely miss out. I was pleased that King Kong is still featured prominently in the gift shop and exhibits in the lead up to the observation deck.

The shadow The Building casts from my 1960s is long. My office has framed posters and artwork featuring Kong – the 1933 movie poster, an “Alive on Broadway” poster from the Broadway show, and a numbered lithograph from the Bizarro cartoon strip. The 4 year old in me is still smiling.

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