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Locked down but not out in Italy

Singing from the balconies! One nice thing about this crisis ... solidarity! “Guess you’re not living like a tourist anymore,” was the funny, truthful and somewhat gut-wrenching message of a friend the day the lockdown in Italy began. Today is day 6. My beloved Italia has been hit hard with the COVID19 epidemic. With the second largest elderly population in the world, the epidemic has meant a disproportionate amount of deaths in the country. So though I haven’t been worried about contracting it myself, this isn’t about me or someone like me who, if contracted it would probably have a sucky couple of weeks and then recover. It is about if someone like me contracted it and then spread it to a person with a complicated health history or an elderly person with a weakened immune system. Eerily orderly: Lines for the grocery store, each person one meter apart In a country with no concept (and no physical room really) for personal space, and in a city with reproachable hygie

My birthday: Pocket Project- Day 1

So today is my birthday and day one of my pocket project. Since today is also one of my last days in Chicago, I thought it highly appropriate to make my “new thing” something related to this city.

I have done very well in exploring Chicago so there weren’t many new things outstanding on my Chicago list… except one.

This one is no ordinary tourist site. It has daunted me since I saw advertisements for it on the side of trolleys (of all things). It is THE LEDGE, and it is found at the top of the Sears (now Willis) Tower.

This is not a regular observatory deck. In fact, I have been to the top of the Sears tower, and like Ferris Bueller, I had no problem putting my head to the glass and looking down at the city. I am not concerned with height. I don’t generally get vertigo or weeks knees. I loved climbing things as a kid and that has seemingly stuck with me to this point.

Yet, even the ads themselves for THE LEDGE (motto: “dare to stand out”) made me nervous. More than heights, I don’t like feeling suspended over something. The most terrifying rides for me are the pirateship-type ones where at the end of each swing you are suspended in mid-air looking down at the ground before rushing back in the opposite direction. What, if not to feel suspensed, is the idea of standing in a glass box, looking down through a floor of virtual nothingness?

I didn’t want to do it. Well, most of me anyway.

I knew, though, that today was the day.

Unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperative (Chicago in January, go figure). So it was snowy, cloudy and foggy, but they ensured me that you could still see down to the ground from THE LEDGE. So I paid my ticket and ascended the 103 floors.

I didn’t waste my time with any of the history of the building or the regular observatory level- I knew what I was there for and went right for it. I sped walked through the other exhibits and stepped right up to the glass box and… froze. I was petrified.

Let me give you a little context. This is not a window or even a full length wall of the building made of glass. This is essentially a separate glass-enclosure stuck to the side of the tallest tower in North America. It is an add-on. It is not a true piece of the building nor was it originally intended to be there. And, it has not structurally stood the test of time. These four glass boxes were added to the observatory level in 2009, luring crazy tourists (like me) with the promise of fear. Below it is 1,353 feet (412 meters) of nothing until the very hard, very real concrete. (And yes, I know, I have gone sky diving… somehow this is different.)

Anyway, back to THE LEDGE. I wanted to walk out on it, but I found myself clutching the wall of the actual building… I forced my hand to let go and I stood on the glass floor and looked straight down at the tiny little cabs and the roofs of all the regular sized buildings and thought, “this is totally unnatural.”

My knees involuntarily wobbled, and I hopped back to the “real” floor. I tried again, but was uncomfortable with being “suspended” for more than about a minute at a time. After two or three of these attempts, I decided that it was good enough, and decided to go walk around the rest of the real observatory.

And then I thought, “No, it is not good enough.” I went back and eyed this parasitic piece of architecture, seemingly latched onto the steel building in a casual, haphazard kind of way. I thought, what do I NOT want to do. “Sit on it” was the answer. So I decided to sit on it.

I reluctantly lowered myself down to the floor, looked at the world beneath my bum, got a picture and rushed out of the glass cage. I walked away and then stopped and thought, “No." There is something else I don’t want to do.

So I walked back over to the glass leach, carefully scanned the sides for any cracks, loose bolts, or unnatural swaying and determining that it was still structurally sound at this moment, I laid down on it. It was all well and good, but I wasn’t about to get comfortable and take nap or something; so I asked a kind stranger to take a picture and then I got the heck off. I walked back onto solid ground, making a tour of the 103rd floor, letting my knees regain full control, then took the 90 second elevator ride back down to where the regular sized people and cabs were.

So on my 31st birthday, I stepped out on THE LEDGE. Let's face it, I know the metaphorical meaning behind it, and in both ways, I think that conquering this, literally and figuratively, was a necessary step forward. I defied my fear and can leave Chicago in peace.

Tomorrow I leave for Nicaragua. Since I have never been there, everything will be new, but I won’t take the easy way out. I will ensure to push my limits even there and report back when I can.

31 here I come!

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