Every time New York is featured on a television show or movie, there is always a beautiful sunset, fashionably dressed New Yorkers, and an incredible skyline. People rush up to rooftop wine bars such as 230 5th and the roof cafÃ© at the Metropolitan Museum of Art just to gaze at Manhattan like one would look at a Piranesi etching. As an architect and photographer, I am obsessed with the grandeur of New York. Every neighbourhood is a different country and the hidden treasures are endless. I am constantly on a search of finding a bigger, better way of discovering New York.
Once a year, I head up to Gardner, New York to meet John Kieran. John is a licensed skydiver and has been jumping at Skydive the Ranch since 2000. He has jumped over 6,500 times. There is a meter on his diving helmet that keeps track of his every dive. John jumps out of a plane multiple times a day and seems to never hesitate when he leaps. However, before his first dive at the age of 20, he couldn’t even climb a tree. He was a mechanic working on cars who had a fear of heights. He decided one day to face his fear and head up to Skydive the Ranch and jump out of a plane. After he landed, he was addicted. One jump in New York led him to jumps in Florida, California, Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maine. In 2004, he quit his job as a mechanic and moved up to Skydive the Ranch to become an official employee and professional skydiver.
When I asked John what his favorite part of skydiving was, I expected him to say he loved free falling. But to my surprise, he answered that he loves to open his parachute right away and experience the turning, gliding, and spinning in mid-air.
“Flying with a parachute, feels like I have my own jet. It responds to my slightest body movements and makes me swoop across a cloud,” John said.
When I met John 4 years ago, I wanted to take more control of my life. It sounds like an oxymoron that falling helplessly out of the sky is being “more in control”. However, my favorite part about skydiving, is making the decision to jump out of the plane. John doesn’t push me out. Instead, I pull him down. He makes every student feel comfortable and his favorite part of the experience is watching how every student reacts.
John never forgets a students’ reaction. Whether it’s a boy who just turned 18 excited that he could not jump the day before, but can today or if it is an 84 year old army ranger tired of his friends poking fun at the fact he does not do well in high places. John even was the tandem coach for Rachel Ray when she made her fifth dive!
When John and I were on the plane, he went through every strap on the harness to make me feel at ease. Then, a green light turned on inside the aircraft to signal the plane was at an altitude of 14,000 feet. Soon after, the door slid upward like a garage door in a driveway. My tandem coach and I scooted up to the exit and the countdown began, “Three, two, one. Arch!” The two of us were diving down toward the ground at 120 miles per hour. The wind hit my face so strongly I can barely scream for joy. My ears popped endeavoring to adjust to the change in elevation and I can barely hear anything except the sound of wind rapidly passing your body. When we reached an altitude about 5,000 feet, John taps my shoulders to let me know that we are ready to deploy the parachute. I reached back and pull the toggle in the shape of a golf ball. The resistance of the chute yanks us upward. And just like that, everything is calm and quiet. I feel like I’m floating in mid-air. I catch my breath and I almost forget one of my main motives for coming to Skydive the Ranch— to look at Manhattan from above.
John spins me around and says, “Look. There it is — New York City.” It’s beautiful. The trees are fall colored like Fuji apples in shades of yellow, red, and orange. I see several more parachutes pop up around me in neon. From a distance, New York doesn’t seem like the cab-honking, fast-walking, money making machine. It looks like a city straight out of Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. A city full of wonder, possibility, and dreams.
Before I realize, my 5 minutes of parachuting are up and my feet hit the ground — back to reality. Round two? I ponder. Then, I change my mind. Too much of a good thing can ruin it. I patiently wait until the next fall to jump, again.