Window washers work on the side of One World Trade Center in 2015.
Photo by Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images
New York City is full of peculiar phenomena—rickety fire escapes; 100-year-old subway tunnels;air conditioners propped perilously into window frames—that can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest city denizen. But should they? Every month, writer Ashley Fetters will be exploring—and debunking—these New York-specific fears, letting you know what you should actually worry about, and what anxieties you can simply let slip away.
Twenty-eight floors up in the new One World Trade Center, just a matter of months after the magazine I worked for had moved in, I stood transfixed alongside a few colleagues as a pair of window washers on a hanging platform sprayed and soaped our floor-to-ceiling window. As they finished up, one pressed a switch, and with a terrifying lurch and a collective involuntary noise from us, the peanut gallery, the stage descended down to the next floor.
“Shockingly analog,” one coworker muttered as the window cleaners disappeared from view.
If there’s a No. 1 source of secondhand anxiety for New Yorkers, it’s the unmistakable sight of skyscraper window washers, out in the open air, doing their jobs while suspended hundreds of feet above ground by a system of cables. On a day with even a slight breeze, it’s hard not to imagine a worst-case scenario. How often does the unthinkable … actually happen? And how is it prevented?