#410: The Ride Up

December 10th, 2014

The elevator’s mirrored doors were a cruel touch; the riders couldn’t even lock eyes ahead.

Instead, the 10 in the metal box had to go to different ruses to avoid looking at each other. They looked up, down, to the left, to the right. They pretended to be interested into the inset screens spewing outside weather temperatures and snippets of the news.

They checked watches, stared at their feet, rubbed imaginary dirt and schmutz off collars and ties. Anything, anything to avoid catching another’s eye contact, even for a moment.

As the elevator rose, eardrums gathered pressure. Some made cartoonish yawns to try and earn that elusive pop. Others grimaced. One woman in the back grabbed her nose and gave a little half blow.

The ding of floor 66, then a wordless, eye-contact-avoiding single-file stream out of the elevator and around the corner to the “Floors 66-102” elevator for the last leg of their morning commute up the Willis Tower.

The Willis Tower (Sears, Sears, always Sears) is not the tallest building in the world by a long shot anymore. It’s also, I was sad to discover, several sizes shorter than Mount Olympus, because otherwise the metaphor would write itself.

Instead the Sears is the Goliath of Chicago, the planet’s 12th tallest building, housed in the nation’s third largest city.

From the 66th floor, the view is magic. A light pitter of rain visible from the side as a gray haze over the city.

Here, the view of the town spread out below. Here, Museum Campus aside a lake that vanishes to the distance. Here, a Jewel, red sign cutting through the smoke-colored rain. There, lights. There, cars. There, a molasses stream of headlights oozing down the highway, drivers hoping praying cursing screaming to get there before doomsday comes at 9 a.m.

There are hidden secrets made visible from above. Across a heart-stopping void, 311 Wacker Drive pops up at eye level to the 66th floor. It’s the pinkish building topped with the light-up cylinders tour guides tell people were modeled after the architect’s wife’s wedding ring.

The tour guides never check. It could be true.

On a ledge, tucked away from the crowds a thousand feet down, a rig and bucket to lower window washers. Steam pours out of one of the possible wedding rings. The bits of machinery that keep the building a building are hidden away among the artifice that makes it a romantic story for tour guides to tell.

There’s work to be done in all these buildings. There are people working 66 stories below to 37 above, from the janitors to the lawyers to the gift shop tellers waiting for people off the Ledge to buy Lego Sears models.

They call it Willis.

It’s all right on this view from not-quite-Olympus. All is well as the rain pitters down to the people below.

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