It's a weird feeling walking up to the Empire State Building not as tourist, but as a tenant. But that's exactly what I was for four years. It's equally weird to admit that despite spending nearly 12 hours a day in the most popular tourist attraction in the city for so long, I never felt unsafe. And despite today's shooting, I still consider it one of the safest places in the city.
Many likely don't know that tucked within the walls of the architectural marvel lies a small college -- The King's College. Or at least there used to be: The college moved down to the financial district just weeks ago. (I can't help but think that was providence now.) But during my four years at the school, I called the Empire State Building home. I held a job there. I've taken naps there. I've been evacuated from there. I've watched football games there and played hours of ping-pong. My favorite pub is two blocks away. So is my favorite Chinese place -- or "was," until the health department shut it down.
I say all that to note this: I have an intimate knowledge of the area. And I have an idea of the general mood of those who, like me, walked down the intersection where the shooting took place every day. When I first heard of the morning's shootings, I couldn't help but think how so many who also have an intimate knowledge of the area must have felt like I did during those four years: safe.
Every day, thousands and thousands of people pour into the area around what the locals simply refer to as the "ESB." Not only is the building itself packed with tenants, but there are hundreds of buildings around it -- a mall, the Macy's store you see every Thanksgiving, and several subway stops. And most of us complain about the other thousands of people known as tourists that descend upon it every morning. But despite our complaints, those tourists and the other thousands of those working there somehow offer a sense of comfort.
"Comfort?" you ask. Yes, comfort. For whatever reason, neither me nor anyone else I know that called the ESB home ever felt unsafe. There were just so many of us there daily that the idea someone would target it -- such an obvious location crawling with police and building guards -- was just unfathomable. Maybe it's that we think there's strength in numbers (despite those numbers having nothing but their fists to defend themselves thanks to the draconian weapons laws). Maybe it's because we always thought that if the building was going to be "hit" it would be from terrorists. And because the building is such an icon, we expected the NYPD would always have an eye on it.
Looking back now, I know it doesn't make sense. Visible security inside the building isn't extremely tight: there are no metal detectors, and only some small turnstiles separate Joe Blow walking through the corridors from the elevators taking the workers to their hives. While I can still picture the stout, 50-something, cantankerous cop that used to waddle his way around the halls, there wasn't an armed officer or guard at every entrance. I remember seeing the plain-clothed security team once in a while -- I even think I made out the silhouette of guns under their jackets -- but they didn't impose.
But then again, maybe it does make sense. According to early reports, the shooter was a disgruntled employee that worked inside* the building that came to exact his revenge. I can tell you that whenever I thought of the ESB being in the news, it wasn't for that. I imagined it being for a terror plot with bombs and political agendas. In the end, at least for now, it appears that's not the case. Additionally, it happened outside, not even inside the building. It could be argued the building security did its job.
And guess what: I can guarantee you that when I return to NYC on Saturday and spend a week there, I will go back to the ESB to visit friends and still feel safe.
Whether that makes sense or not.
This piece has been updated.
*We now know the shooter once worked at an office across the street.