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In the heights

Remembering Philippe Petit’s high wire walk at the top of the World Trade Center, plus one incredible elevator ride

In the heights

People look out at Manhattan and beyond at One World Observatory at One World Trade Center. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A New York moment: 

If you make a trip to New York, let me recommend saving your pennies for the expensive elevator ride ($34) up One World Trade Center, which I recently visited for the first time. The dollars are worth it for the stratosphere-level view. It’s so high, you can barely make out the cars in the street below. (How American is it to build the new WTC 1,776 feet tall? What a brash statement of power and national pride.)

The observatory is at the same level as the roof of the original twin towers. I could only think of Philippe Petit, and how incomprehensible it was that he walked on a tightrope at that height. “The apex of excitement,” said the police officer who watched him do the feat in 1974.

Another wonder is the digital experience as you ride the high-speed, ear-popping elevator up and down. When you walk inside the elevator, high-definition screens cover the four walls like windows, showing 360-degree CGI views of the surrounding area as it appeared before European settlers arrived. As the elevator rises, the years tick up like ascending floors, and each year you watch the city rise and transform around you until the elevator is swallowed up in the construction of this new building and you arrive at the top. It’s such a tricky use of animation to pull off, but one that works because of the attention to detail. Just ask and you can ride the elevator multiple times, which we did.

Worth your time:  

A story of the woman who went missing and, when she was found, couldn’t remember anything about the intervening days. To me, this seems like a story of a strange spiritual world breaking in, leaving us without easy scientific or rational explanations.

This week I learned: 

The Second Avenue subway on the Upper East Side cost $2.5 billion per mile of track—while a similar subway project in Paris cost $450 million per mile of track. The Government Accountability Office is investigating the high subway construction costs in New York. 

A court case you might not know about: 

A 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on a Christmas play case out of Elkhart, Ind., is a very entertaining read. The Indiana public high school hosts an annual “Christmas Spectacular,” which three parents and the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged under the Establishment Clause for its Nativity scene and Scripture reading. As the case has progressed, the school has progressively edited the show—adding a Kwanzaa song and replacing students in the Nativity scene with mannequins.

The 7th Circuit’s panel ruling has a tone of long-suffering—the court seems unhappy about intervening in the details of a high-school play. The judges dutifully note the ratio of Christmas to Hanukkah songs, and the number of minutes the Nativity scene lasts.

U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook concurred but didn’t join the opinion. He criticized the judiciary for “playing the role of producer to decide which material, representing what religious traditions, may appear in a choral performance.” 

Culture I am consuming: 

Baseball. It’s back, even if a record-breaking snowstorm postponed the Mets’ and Yankees’ games in New York yesterday.

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