- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Every part of my brain screamed no, don’t, stop!

With a deep breath and a tentative tap of my foot to make sure the transparent floor was sturdy, I forced myself to step out onto the clear overhanging platforms at Chicago’s Willis Tower’s Skydeck onto the “Ledge.”

This meant stepping several feet past the edge of the 103-story building. Looking down through the clear glass, there was nothing below me but Wacker Dr. far, far, far below.

Randal A. Stancik, general manager, smiled beside me, having stepped out past Skydeck Chicago’s edge many times before.

“The Ledge” was his brainchild, an idea to draw Chicagoans and tourists alike back to what was once the world’s tallest building. An impish grin crossed his visage as he recalled sourcing the project first before shuffling the building’s owners to a meeting, where a designer already had a model plan.

“It’s actually the older people who become like children again,” Mr. Stancik said, relating anecdotes of several senior citizens who suddenly revert to teenagers, gleefully jumping past the “safe” edge of the Skydeck to take all manner of humorous photos seemingly suspended 1,353 feet in the air.

Others, he said, are more timid, with visitors across the age spectrum crawling on hands and knees onto the transparent platforms, while still others become so nauseated as to back away from the edge.

It’s also become a favorite place for marriage proposals.

From my platform, Mr. Stancik and I could peer east and south, the Great Plains offering nary a natural landmark, but man’s handiwork providing a sense of scale and distance notwithstanding. O’Hare airport and its air traffic were in the hazy distance, with U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, only a few miles to the near-south. Mr. Stancik pointed to a patch of brown arbors in the far distance, which surround Wrigley Field.

Although Mr. Stancik and I stayed past the edge for nearly 20 minutes, trying to make such a thing “normal,” there remained an ancient lizard part of my brain that simply refused to believe that I was safely ensconced harmlessly in a cubicle of modern engineering. In neighboring enclosed platforms, teens cheerily took humorous selfies and group shots, with a young man even doing a handstand, his eyes intent on the ground so far below.

It was better, Mr. Stancik advised, if I not look down. He was right. Peering straight down brought back a sense of vertigo and the impossibility of standing here, instantly buckling my knees.

Unlike in dreams of flying, the feeling was a little less than freeing.

The fact that he said you can sometimes feel the building sway in the breeze didn’t help much.

But still, we conversed and shared stories of our respective Windy City pedigrees nigh on a half-hour. His daughter, he said, was volunteering at Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana, where I was headed for my paper in a few hours — and where I made my home for six months in 2013-14.

This was, of course, where Ferris Bueller and his hookie-mates stopped on their day off, where Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) believed he could see his father somewhere down there among the working drones. T-shirts in the gift shop are emblazoned with “Save Ferris” and bear witness to Abe Froman, “the sausage king of Chicago.”

FerrisFest, celebrating the 30th anniversary of John Hughes’ seminal teen comedy, is coming to Chicago soon. Tours are planned of the trio’s exploits, including, of course, the building, known then — and still to hard-core Chicagoans —as the Sears Tower.

With adrenaline and the sheer implausibility of the situation, it was time I too took photos. Mr. Stancik cheerily used my iPhone to snap pics of me in the cube, including in a Buddha-like posture, eyes closed and pointer fingers touching thumbprints. A staff member then took the “professional” photos of me acting more like the goof I am: jumping up and down, reclining as if doing so so far above city streets were the norm.

When Mr. Stancik bid me adieu, I finally worked up the courage to get a running start and then jump up and land hard on the glass. Despite my best try, modern engineering held.

If it’ll hold me and my antics, I promise it will support you too.

For more information, or to schedule a visit, visit TheSkydeck.com.

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