October 01
Male, Jewish, in my extremely early sixties, married with kids (well, at this point I guess that should be "kid"). Thanks to Lezlie for avatar artwork - sort of a translation of my screen name. "Salaam" is peace in Arabic, hence the peace sign. (No, my name doesn't mean "hunk of meat" and yes, the pun is intentional.)


Koshersalaami's Links
APRIL 19, 2012 1:17AM

Tales of J: The Empire State Building Story

Rate: 19 Flag

My kid inspires a street protest 


My son and I were in Manhattan for a few days in February of 2004 because he was invited by his camp counselor from the previous summer to help her with a presentation about camp at her high school. It's the night before we're going to fly home. We’d had dinner with my cousin and her husband. She's giving us a lift and wants to know where to drop us. It's a little after 11 PM; my son is half asleep, but we haven’t seen the Empire State Building and we're due to leave in the morning, so I ask him whether he wants to go back to our friend’s apartment to sleep or to the Empire State Building. “Empire State Building,” he murmurs, barely awake. I’d read signs around the city saying the ESB was open really late, like until after 1 AM, so I figure we're OK. My cousin drops us off around a block from our destination.

We get there and find a crowd of people on the sidewalk, perhaps twenty of them, arguing vehemently with the guards at the ESB, who aren’t letting any of them in. The guards are saying that the building is full, with a long enough line to last until the building closed, and they want the crowd to leave, but the crowd isn't budging. Full for close to two hours in advance?

We’d forgotten something:

The date.

It's February 14, Valentines’ Day, and a Saturday night on top of that. Too many people have seen Sleepless in Seattle and whatever other romantic movies feature this place.

My son hears we can’t get in and starts wailing, which sometimes happens when he gets overtired; it's late and it's been a long day. Normally I’d try to calm him down but I'm tired myself and, frankly, kind of pissed that we can’t get in that far in advance of closing, so I just stand behind his wheelchair and let him wail. Let the guards deal, dammit, I’m not taking the heat from him on this one.

It’s one thing for the guards to refuse a crowd of adults but quite another to refuse a crying nine year old boy in a wheelchair, and a cute one at that. The guards are beginning to look seriously uncomfortable and the crowd is getting pissed on my son’s behalf. Within about half a minute, the crowd starts chanting: “Let the Kid in. Let the Kid in.” Then one of the guys in the crowd comes forward and says to the guards: “If you let the kid in, we’ll leave.”

About a minute later, a guy in a guard uniform who is obviously in a position of authority shows up at the door, looks at us and crooks his finger at us, motioning us to come in. We do. He says to us, “I’m sorry, but we can’t let the rest of your party in.” “What party?” I reply. “We don’t know anyone out there.” He leads us down a hall. A guard walks toward us coming the other way and our guy says “This one’s on me.” Apparently, the ESB charges admission. I have no idea how much; we aren’t charged.

He brings us to a room for a security check where there are these Russian guys with metal detectors. They don’t kid around; they go over us, including every inch of the wheelchair, like we fit a terrorist profile. We of course get cleared.

Now he leads us into an elevator. We go up, most of the way up the building, then we come out of the elevator. Off to my left I see a velvet rope behind which is a line of people that looks like it stretches on forever. That’s not where we’re taken, though; we’re whisked into a second elevator, a much shorter ride. We get out of this one, walk straight ahead for less than half a minute and suddenly we’re on the balcony, over 90 stories up. It’s gorgeous. It’s spectacular. I’m not sure how much my son can see over the railing but he’s not complaining. It’s colorful. It’s Manhattan at night with an uninterrupted view and a balcony that goes all the way around the building. Suspension bridges, buildings, all of it. And one other thing:

It’s FREEZING! It’s February in Manhattan at close to midnight better than ninety stories up, outside, where there’s absolutely nothing to break the wind. As gorgeous as it is, we’re not staying on that balcony for long.

So we go inside in a couple of minutes, ride the elevator to the street, and walk to my friend’s apartment. (Well, I walk and push the chair. Same difference.)

Two further observations:

1. It didn’t occur to me until later that letting my son wail on that sidewalk solved a problem for everyone else present. The guards couldn’t get rid of the crowd and the men in the crowd couldn’t leave without losing face – until they were cutting a deal for my son, at which point they all justifiably looked like heroes to their dates for doing a Mitzvah.

2. My son and I were in NYC from Tuesday afternoon until Sunday morning. I was afraid the City would be a difficult place to take my son around. Exactly the opposite turned out to be true: I never saw a place as unremittingly welcoming to him as New York City, and I have never been prouder of the area where I grew up, where my family is from. (My parents were both born and raised in the city, as were two of my grandparents and two of my great grandparents.)  The mayor couldn’t have scripted hospitality like that - it really beat anywhere else I ever took him, even Disney World. Everybody went out of their way for him; I never saw anything like it before and I haven‘t since.

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I have seen such humanity before. Rarely, there is this right moment where a "good cause" can bring people together and guides them to do the right thing. Excellent post, Kosher. R
Trust me, I didn't have that in mind. I didn't have anything in mind. I was just tired.

There are other stories from this trip, though I don't know if I'll write about them because I wouldn't want people to expect the treatment my kid got.
I'm happy you have this wonderful memory.
Thank-you for sharing it with us.

How great would it be if the street protesters read this post?
(Hey-It COULD happen.)
I hope you'll build up a portfolio of J stories here (at least here). r.
Most wailing kids these days would piss people off. Your boy must've had an endearing way about him. Great story, Kosh.
Just Another AJ,
Yeah, that would really be cool. I've thought of that. Chances are pretty slim, but you never know.

I probably will. This was one I've known needed telling just because it was so surreal.
At that age, yes. I wondered at the time what the same trip would have been like if he'd been much older. Obviously not the wailing, like in this case, but he was at a very appealing age - a little elfin at times, big smile, good-looking kid.
This is wonderful. I will look at NYC differently now. I've always found it to be a big scary place...and yet most of the people I know tell me differently. They tell me it is a place with heart. I'd like to go to the Statue of Liberty one day. That is certainly doable.

Thank for sharing this wonderful adventure with J.
That particular trip blew me away, and we ran into the same thing over and over. I might post about this one day, but:

Boarding buses:

There are two doors on a city bus: the front one where most people board and the one in the middle of the side which is called the back door. To get a wheelchair on the bus, a motorized lift comes out below the steps of the back door and lowers, then you put the chair on and buckle the passenger in place, then raise the lift, unbuckle the passenger, wheel the passenger to the right position on the bus, buckle the passenger there, retract the lift. Then, and only then, the driver, who's been running all this equipment, goes to the front of the bus and lets everyone else on.

We had to travel by bus because the subway system is too old for most stations to be handicapped-accessible from street level - stairs. When we rode the bus, though it wasn't during rush hour, I never saw a waiting passenger so much as grimace as we went through the boarding process. Think about that - we're talking about Manhattan here, the most famous place in the world for impatience.

But that wasn't all. It occurs to me after we board that up front is where the drivers collect fares, so I wandered up to pay for us. The driver waved me away, saying: "As long as you're with your son, no driver in the city will charge you." Over the rest of the trip, I discovered he wasn't kidding. However, if I posted this normally, I'm afraid someone would assume that was city policy and complain if they got charged and I'm not looking to create aggravation for a system that was kind to us.

That's what New York was like. My son wanted to move there. If I had a living, I wouldn't have minded. We ran into both institutional kindness and personal kindness repeatedly. These are two examples - well, really, four: the crowd at the ESB, the officials at the ESB once they admitted us (free, front of the line), the other bus passengers' tolerance about time, the drivers - but there were more, and this in less than a week.
Never confuse New York's affect with coldness. When I was in high school, my family moved from suburban NY to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. One of the things I found strange about being in Maryland was that strangers in movie lines didn't strike up conversations. In New York, that was normal. In Maryland, I found people smiled more but meant it less. New York was rougher but warmer; perhaps another way of looking at it was more annoyed, less angry (a characteristic I absorbed which has confused a lot of non-New Yorkers - I annoy easily but anger slowly). I realized I had to deal with culture shock as a teenager the first time I insulted someone as part of conversation and they actually got insulted. What?? Wait a minute...... No, no, no, now it's your turn....
This story warms the cockles of my heart. (What the hell are cockles, anyway???) I remember that long elevator ride to the top of the ESB. I was 22 and on my honeymoon. And that was even before Sleepless in Seattle. New York was rather scary for this mid-westerner who was used to people smiling at each other on the sidewalk and staying on the right-hand side of the sidewalk. But when I went back several times years later, I came to love the city.

Well now I'm all teary.

And that's exactly the response I'd expect from New Yorkers. (Because I haven't spent much time there and have an overly romantic view of it or because all the stories I've heard are true? You decide.)

and p.s. In Minneapolis, the wheelchair lift is at the front bus door and everyone can damn well wait while the person in the chair gets on - usually with the drivers' help. I've never heard anyone complain. Suburban buses, though - no way for a wheelchair on them.

and - how scary is this relative to your experience - when I moved to MD from MN I was shocked and amazed at how friendly people were. Not talk-in-line friendly but helpful.
Gee, and I always heard about Minnesota Nice.
That's a common misspelling of Minnesotan Ice, Kosh. It's another word for passive-aggressive.
That I will pass on. That's way too good not to quote.
When I pushed my mother through the airport in her wheelchair, we were given the most V.I.P. treatment. It must be what having loads of dough feels like.

About the City, I have met the nicest people, friendly and willing to share and help, and it's only every 20-30th person you see that you wish you hadn't. Small town life does not prepare one for some of the most blatant street living horribleness.
The downside can get awfully far down, but the overall population has gotten a bad rap.
Great story, and having visited many cities in the U.S. and Europe, I will argue until I'm blue in the face that New York's reputation as unfriendly is way, way off base.
Way off base.

Oddly enough, I think one of the things that helped New York's reputation was 9/11 because Americans were suddenly prone to view NYC favorably, so they finally got the benefit of the doubt. It's kind of the only positive I can think of to 9/11: On 9/10/01, a lot of Americans viewed New York as sort of too liberal, too out there, too multiethnic, too sort of European, too foreign, not really American. By noon on 9/11, New York might as well have been Kansas City.
Wonderful story. I hope he remembered it afterwards.. the elevator ride, the night view, the sound of the wind, your own pleasure. I'm so glad your memory is still vivid and happy. New York is crowded and often frenzied, but that's just the overview. Underneath, most people actually enjoy the respite --mitzvah?-- of helping and chatting with strangers.
A real WOW of a post, Kosh! Such a fascinating story; so many ?"lessons"? and observations. Couldn't help wondering -- did "your J" ever tell you his own version? His 9-year-old memories? Plus, for a perhaps somewhat sly note; given that you earlier told us all about when you first saw him after his birth you knew he was your son because he "looked just like you", I sort of "doubly loved" your description of his face and its expressions!

Who says NYC is a city without a heart?
Sally and Marte,
I never did ask him what he remembered about it. He'd heard me tell the story, but I always concentrated on the protest/demonstration aspect of it because it was both so unusual and so quintessential. He wasn't that young and, once we arrived and found out there were difficulties, he was no longer half asleep.

Our heads were shaped alike, though he didn't have my sagittal crest (my head is essentially pointed). I never had his elfin cuteness to my knowledge; I tended to be serious. Our personalities were nothing alike; in that respect, he was a lot more like his mother. Except, I think, that we're (or were) both puritans at heart. I was also way more self-conscious than he was; it took me a long time to get rid of my self-consciousness while he never really had it. He was, like his mother, way more emotional than I've ever been; I've always been detached. That goes in two directions: I didn't have as much joy and I didn't have nearly as much anger, which manifested more later. Some of those stories get pretty rough.

Thank you. In that case, in NYC, it was a great few days. Best trip he and I ever took.

I still can't fathom how much hospitality we experienced concentrated into that short a time, and a lot of it was institutional. Some was personal.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful story, Koshersalaami! What warm and welcoming memories from NYC. :)
This is a great story, and so nice of you to equitably resolve that situation. :) I spent three months on Long Island in 1989- worst three months of my life. My first morning there, I was thoroughly insulted by a guy in the grocery store, and my boyfriend's mother was a shit and he was totally up her ass. Good to know they were an anomaly.
clay ball,
my pleasure

Bright Eyes,
The resolution was an accident. It was the result of my being tired and not trying to defuse the situation.

There are plenty of not-nice people in NY, but there are anywhere, so I wouldn't call that cultural. In terms of insults, tha depends on where you're from because most of it is a casual insult culture; a lot of insults aren't serious.
I LOVE the people in New York. I have not had a bad experience there- except for a parking ticket! What a wonderful thing - I hope your son remembers it!
Wren Dancer, Dear, I'm afraid he can't. He died unexpectedly January 8. We don't know each other well so I understand completely how that could slip your mind; I know that it must have because you commented on my February post when I discussed his death. (I wasn't 100% sure you had so I went back and looked - my memory isn't that good either.)
Your memory might not be so good, but your storytellling skills are! I love you pointy-headed types.
"Pointy-headed types?" At least I know spmeone's following the comments. Thanks for the storytelling compliment
Sorry it took so long to get to this but I am behind on everything. I worked a block away from the Empire State building for years. I never went up there though because I always heard it was a rip off but it sounds like you got a memorable moment out of it. I have always found that most people are good when you give them half a chance to be, that’s why I don’t understand the current state of the world.
You and Token. The operative word is "most."