On the ledge with Glass

“The sensual mysticism of entire vertical being.”

E.E. Cummings was a wise man. Skyscrapers have this mystical quality to them as they reach from the ground into the sky. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

I felt this way as I approached Chicago’s Willis Tower, a wondrous beauty made of steel and glass. I felt completely dumb though because I thought the Willis and Sears Tower were two different buildings. I must have missed the memo when they changed their name in 2009. Either way, I was in Chi-town and ready to experience something truly Chicago.

I noted the city’s similarities to other East Coast cities like Philadelphia and New York and wanted to see something that made Chicago unique. I aimed high and pitched the Willis Tower management my story idea — recording a trip up to the Skydeck Ledge through Google Glass. Google had kindly allowed student journalists at the Online News Association conference to take a brief spin in them, so I looked for a good first-person experience.

The Ledge is a glass encasement that protrudes about four feet out of the building’s top floor. Think of it like an extended window, which you can actually walk on, with nothing but the glass separating you from the street 103 stories below.

The Willis people invited me over and ushered me through the crowd to the elevators, a nice plus since the wait can average as much as three hours during peak times like the Fourth of July week.

The ride zipped us up in under a minute. A video explained how high up we were going in real time as it compared the height to other buildings in the United States and the world. I, along with the entire elevator full of boisterous tourists, felt our ears pop over and over.

When the doors opened, we headed into the noisy crowd taking selfies, posing for group photos but mostly standing in line waiting for a chance to feel their stomach drop as they stepped out onto the ledge.

For my interview with Skydeck general manager Randy Stancik, we both stood out on the ledge. Using Google Glass is a little strange at first. The screen rested just above my right eye. I tried not to look too shifty,  having to glance up to make sure the video was running properly. I looked up there a lot, which was a little more comfortable than looking down.

Since the day was clear and sunny, I had a terrific view. Stancik said you can see four states and up to 50 miles around on a clear day. Since I’ve been spoiled by having already been to the top of the Prudential Tower in Boston, I knew what to expect, but seeing Chicago look like a giant Lego set was still impressive. And perhaps recording it through the funky new eyewear made me enjoy it more.