with greatness

   Why I didn't fall off the edge of the Space Needle








Scale and eerily lifelike representations of our walk across the rooftop. The violet "L" represents Rob and his brother dangling their legs over the precipice; the tiny square represents me curled into a ball near the hatch quivering like a baby.

My best friend in junior high, Rob Olson, and I went up to Puget Sound to visit his father (circa 1978). It turned out that his dad was treasurer of Pentagram Corp, the company that owned (maybe managed?) the Space Needle.

We strode through the relatively empty grounds of what was once the 1962 Seattle World's Fair with a swagger surely enhanced by our bell-bottomed jeans. The Needle is an impressive structure. Officially opened exactly 2 years before my birth (on April 21, 1962), it rises a vertiginous 605 feet into the Washington sky.

Rob's dad flashed i.d. to the elevator person which got me, Rob, and his older brother Chris, into the Willy Wonka elevator that took us to the top observation floor (only 518 feet). If we wuz touristas we'd head to the glass doors that opened out to the Observation Deck. We weren't going there.

Rob's dad took out the Dad Keys, approached a smallish metal door towards the center of the level. After some fiddling, he managed to unlock the portal that led to a narrow vertical passage with a ladder in the wall. It reminded me a bit of a passage in a naval ship. He motioned for us to follow.

He climbed up about 20 feet and with some effort unlatched the roof hatch.


This was not on the scheduled agenda.

One after another, with me in the rear, we followed. With an eagerness that contrasted my reticence, Rob and his brother climbed up and out onto the roof of the Space needle

I stuck my head out and took in the horrifying 360 degree panorama that is Seattle. The 540 feet unobstructed view left me awestruck for a moment before it set off all of my natural defense mechanisms that told me to get the hell back on terra firma. (I can't remember any of this without my palms tingling.)

Rob and Chris weren't quite satisfied. With immense Cheshire grins they beckoned me as they walked closer and closer to the edge! I declined and began to hyperventilate as they proceeded to sit on the edge of the roof, which slants downwards with no lip whatsoever, letting their lower legs hang over the edge! (My palms are now sweaty and cold.)

O.k., the observation deck below does extend out beyond the roof, so theoretically if you just happened to slip off the edge, you'd probably only fall 20 feet onto the observation deck razor wire (fencing in potential jumpers - 2 suicides in 1974 before the "suicide cage" was installed - one in 1978, just months before our visit). However, should a particularly strong gust of wind just happen to sweep through (not out of the question at that elevation), you might become a permanently imbedded feature of the Science Center courtyard.

I wasn't willing to toss those dice at age 14. I figured that I had a few more years left in me.

To this day, I don t regret it.



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