When I moved to my retirement center, I soon became aware that a pecking order existed between those who live on the lower floors of the building and those who live on the higher ones. In fact, “What floor do you live on,” is the question most asked after an introduction. Higher is presumed to be better, of course, not only because of the view it affords but also because higher floors denote a higher the price tag. To say, “I live in the penthouse,” is a shorthand way of announcing one’s financial authority.
In my new digs, I live on the floor above the parking garage. I chose it because I hate elevators. Besides, there are no good views anywhere in the building so I’d rather keep my money in my pocket.
Not surprising, this lust to climb to the top reaches excess in New York City. Billionaires’ Row which is going up along 57th Street, features marble finishings, jaw-dropping views, and a $90 million price tag for penthouses. In spite of the cost, interest in living in one of these pencil thin towers continues to grow and construction now reaches all the way to Park Avenue. In fact, the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere is at 432 Park Avenue. The asking price for condos at this location begins at a $3.1 billion and climbs with each rise in floor level. (“The High-Rise Goes Nuts,” by Anne Vandermey, Fortune Magazine, December 1, 2014, pgs. 14-15.) As author Ann Vandermey points out, with that kind of cash a person could “buy every residential property in Trenton, New Jersey —and still have money left over to buy a sixth in Toledo…” (Ibid pg. 15)
I doubt that human nature can be weaned from its need for pecking orders and displays of extravagance, but I do wonder if the thin air in those high rises has any effect on the human brain. Let’s not contemplate natural or unnatural disasters that could cause elevators to malfunction and require people to tumble down 90 floors of stairs to safety. Let’s imagine the time wasted to get from the ground floor to the penthouse. Envision people returning home at rush hour or converging in the apartment lobby after the theater. At a modest 6 seconds per stop at each floor, the journey from earth to sky would require 15 minutes. Add a few seconds more and the trip could extend to half an hour.
Living at an altitude of nearly 1500 feet may put penthouse dwellers closer to the stars but given the air pollution, the Mad Hatter would be right to muse: “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder where you are?” Given the danger and inconvenience of living in the clouds, I have to wonder if being at the top of the pecking order is all it’s cracked up to be. I don’t consider a good view to be a landscape crammed with miles and miles of other buildings. When I want scenic beauty, I head for the beach or the mountains. Not only is the view relaxing and healthful there, but it has another advantage. It’s free.