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:
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.