This is a story of an urban exploration adventure I had with parkour people, going to the top of a big bridge in NYC.
The way up was exciting but very safe. We had to a little easy beam balancing and climbing when we realized we were on the wrong side of the freeway to reach our access point and then some very simple and unexposed climbing. After that it was a night hike, ascending a metal staircase that was almost a ladder. With every level we climbed, past crisscrossing girders and huge cables like harp strings, more of the city revealed itself. At the peak of the stairs, we climbed a ladder that went through the center of a dark, vertical cave of metal in the ceiling. Through that cylindrical hole we emerged into a dusty metal box of a room with no lights and graffiti covered windows. I thought we’d reached a dead end, but then saw one side of the room was lit by moonlight filtering through a space big enough to climb through. We pulled ourselves up through that gap and then squirmed out a porthole window into the fresh night air on top of the bridge.
I tested the ground beneath me to see how strong, how slanted, how dusty it was, how far in each direction until the world dropped away. Then, satisfied that I could relax and enjoy, I let the panoramic view of the city wash over me.
My first impression was just a mass of twinkling lights: shimmering reflections on the water, the massive yellow moon low on the horizon, and clusters of dark geometry implied by shining windows. The bridge commanded my attention below like an epic, sci-fi version of yellow brick road. I felt like Spider-Man up somewhere so impossible, where in my peripheral vision a red light flashes intermittently to warn away airplanes.
Then the epic scale of the human project around me really hit me. I had read that day that 8.5 million people live in New York City. To see the length of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens; mountains of metal, hundreds of docked ships that carry cargo from around the world so the city can subsist; to see cars pass by underneath each with a driver going somewhere important to them, and in every direction more windows into someone’s home or workplace than I can count… to then realize NYC is small compared to places like Delhi, Beijing, Shanghai… to think about how transformed the human experience is in these huge cities on a millennium timescale… I felt the scale of it like a thrum in my chest. It hit me with a visceral power that I don’t think I would have get if I’d been in a crowd of tourists on the top floor of the Empire State Building, although I can’t explain why.
I settled into a good vantage point facing Manhattan and the nearly full moon. The members of our little group navigated their experience of this epic, transgressive moment: one friend challenging himself to experience the height with more risk and exposure; a couple of us balancing the desire to preserve with photos against the unfiltered “authenticity” of raw experience. We chatted about the view, about why people are so drawn to vistas, and soon we were just joking around like we might do anywhere. I realized I kept forgetting to really see what was around me, but there’s only so long I can sustain amazement, and sometimes it’s nice to just chat with a background view.
Eventually, it felt like time to come down and go to bed; at this point it was about 4am. We went back through the window, through the gap, down the ladder cave, down the winding, steep stairs, and did our little bit of climbing to cross back into the boundaries of everyday life.