A Visit to the Empire State Building

While in Manhattan a few weeks ago, I made a visit to the Empire State Building. I plunked down the $20 to get up to the 86th floor Observation Deck. It’s a self-guided tour, but multitudes of jacketed escorts direct the lines of people (and lines and lines and lines of them) through corridors and up elevators.

Empire State from 7thAve

The Empire State Building was constructed (completed) in 1931. It was the tallest building in the world, until the World Trade Center was built in 1972. It’s designed in the glamorous Art Deco style.

Empire State Bldg Lobby 2

I was surprised at the crowds in the building. It was Wednesday morning, and yet there were hundreds of people waiting to get up to the Observation Deck. Most of the time was spent waiting in line to get up there.

Empire State Bldg On the Way Up

Midway through the journey of walking down long hallways and taking elevators up, we had to have our bags scanned through an x-ray machine and we had to pass through a metal detector. It was chaotic. I haven’t been to an airline since 9/11, but the experience must be as or more confusing and noisy. Yuk.

A large family ahead of me caused a small ruckus with the guards. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but they were a large group and they did not speak English (I think they were Bosnian). The children were skittish to pass through the detector, and then the father was told that the x-ray scanner was showing some unauthorized object in his bag– a pocket knife, I thought I heard one guy mumble. They drew the father away to look at the x-ray screen, and pull out the object; the family was in disarray while the father talked with the guards. Another guard saw that the line had stalled, and waved me over.

I was carrying a few bags– a backpack which held my travel gear (I was on my way to the train after this tour) and a tote bag. I plopped them in the plastic bin and away they went. I was not a little dismayed to see my backpack disappear for a time…. it held my netbook and camera. Then, I walked through the metal detector.


Three guards suddenly descended on me like flies on molasses. I was distracted with my backpack that had disappeared, so I didn’t hear the buzzer go off. I wanted it back, so I motioned for the guard to give it to me. The guards held out their hands to stop me, and one guy seemed to talk into an ear microphone with a curly telephone wire attached to his neck (just like on 24). He said “What’s that? What’s that?” He pointed at my small purse hanging around my neck.

“Oh! My cell phone!” I realized I had flunked the metal detector test. Oh, GREAT.

“Put it in the basket!! Put it in the basket!” he ordered.

“Sorry, I forgot!” I said.

“Do you have anything else? Do you have anything else?”

I don’t know why he was repeating everything. It sounded funny. “I have my necklace.” He shook his head. “Anything else? Anything else?” I was hot and flustered and the sarcasm kicked in: “Ummm… I have a gold tooth!!!” He was not amused, and waved me through the detector again. No buzzing. Hurray. As I *finally* located my backpack and tote bag, I passed by a couple of official-looking guards with more telephone wire collars, who eyed me as I walked by. Sheesh. Maybe they’re jealous of my gold tooth….

ANYWAY. There was no air conditioning in the building (not where we were herded), and it was getting very uncomfortable, waiting in lines, walking down long corridors, and waiting in more lines. Finally, we were moved into a huge, huge room. At the other side of the room, we could see a burst of light as if a flash bulb was going on and off, and shouts of “come on! Come on!” What could it be this time? The place was a zoo. I regretted my decision to see the bird’s eye view of New York City.

As the line crawled forward, I could finally see the circus at the end of the room. An Empire State Building employee, a young man, was ushering the waiting people into a small open booth; he instructed them to stand in front of a green screen (the kind they use for special effects for movies). We in line could see a very large TV screen, showing the people standing for their photo, but the cityscape of the Empire State Building had been superimposed on the green screen. A large, colorful sign overhead read “Showtime Pictures.” The flash was a large camera, operated by another employee, a young female. It was like getting a photo with Santa. The young man was hollering at the people to “Come on!” and “Smile” for the camera. Everyone smiled as they were instructed. They were handed a ticket and told they could get their photo of their visit to the Empire State Building on their way out, and wasn’t it the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world?? The female snapped a photo, and the people were ushered out of the room and into the next stage of traveling up to the Observation Deck.

Blast it, they wanna take my photo! I didn’t think the photo opp was for “fun” as they made it seem. This was a terrific way for the Powers That Be to get an image of every single person who walks through the building. We weren’t even asked if we wanted the photo. Which I didn’t. Not that anyone asked…

When it was my turn, the young man hollered, “Come on! Smile! Smile! It’s the Empire State Building!” I held up my hands and scowled. Hope you’re happy, you control freaks, I thought. I was handed a ticket and ushered forward. Hurray.

Again, we waited in line. Wow, lots of waiting. I was wondering if I would be late for my train! Another be-jacketed employee broke into the room and loudly announced, “There is a 20-minute wait for the elevator to the 86th floor! It is only 6 floors to go! If you want to walk up the stairs to the Observation Deck, follow me! It is only 6 floors!”

Most people, sick and tired of waiting in line, flocked to the stairwell, me included.

The stairwell was ROASTING. We huffed and puffed. I was carrying a large backpack and a tote bag… greatly regrettable by the time I crawled to the 84th floor… but I couldn’t stop now, as the sweaty tide of people ahead and behind would have knocked me over. A few employees were standing at the doors of each floor. They smiled, and kept saying, “Only two more floors!” and “You’re almost there!” It was kind of weird.

Finally, the door to the 86th floor opened! We entered a breezy room with large glass walls. I could see the Observation Deck through the windows. Fresh air! I walked quickly outside.

Empire State Bldg Deck_1

Empire State Bldg Deck_2

Empire State Bldg Deck_6

Empire State Bldg Deck_5

Empire State Bldg Deck_3

Empire State Bldg Deck_4

It was wonderful. A very cool breeze blew in from time to time. “It’s freezing up here!” a few people said. I loved it. The view is great. But there is so much to take in, it’s somewhat overwhelming. I walked slowly all around the deck, snapping photos. As I looked down, I could see a few birds flying around. “So this is what they see,” I thought.

As if it could read my mind, a black pigeon with orange feet soared in front of me. It rested on a concrete stoop, and stared at me. LOL. A little girl next to me said, “Look at the bird!”

Empire State Bldg Pigeon

I stayed up there for about 20 minutes. I took a few videos (nothing is edited yet) so that my kids could “experience” it, too. As I listed to the people around me, I rarely heard English. I heard a lot of Russian, Bosnian, and Spanish.

This is a photo of the spire at the top of the building.

Empire State Bldg Spire

Going back down wasn’t as long and arduous as going up had been, but I still had to wait in long lines, still had to endure the constant “waving” of the employees who directed us here and there. If everything hadn’t been so rushed, I’m sure it would have been a much more enjoyable visit. The view is beautiful, but would I endure the trip to the top again? Probably not.

About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (3)

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  1. feefifoto says:

    A long time ago, before 2001, I thought I’d be clever and try to get to the top of the Chrysler Building because EVERYONE does the Empire State. No way. Their security gave me the bum’s rush before I could even finish explaining that I just wanted to see the building and the gargoyles. “You wanna go to the top of a building? The Empire State’s over there.”