"What do you think he's going to do when he gets to the top?" a woman heading to a game via the E train said, pointing at her phone as four Mets hats bobbed down to look at it. "Have you seen Man on Wire?"
If they hadn't, it seemed somewhat sad that they would be introduced to the moment when a man danced back and forth between the Twin Towers for an hour on August 8, 1974 — captivating an entire city 110 stories below — by a 19-year-old who tried to scale Trump Tower with supersized suction cups so he could meet the man who lives on the top floor, captivating the internet for three hours almost exactly 42 years later.
On the other hand, maybe Steve from Virginia, a man whose narrative antecedent is the jailbreak llama crew from Arizona, is the Philippe Petit 2016 deserves: an attention-seeker who correctly assumed that attaching himself like a leech to something with Trump's name on it was the most efficient way to suck an afternoon of publicity out of his candidate's brand, ascending so slowly that a dozen Trump newscycles came and went before he was yanked off the outside of the 21st floor. A stupid blip that evaporated from the election cycle that birthed it seconds after a police officer dragged Steve into a window-washer's carriage, leaving nothing but a bizarre YouTube video with a scene-stealing blue heron painting and dozens of defunct Periscope feeds in his wake.
Steve from Virginia, whose real name is Stephen Rogata, is not the first person to try to summit a very tall structure for political purposes, armed only with suction cups. In 1980, two men from London scaled the Statue of Liberty to protest the incarceration of former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt. A year later, a man with no political motives but a background in stunts suction-cupped his way to the top of the Sears Tower wearing a Spider-Man costume. In 1983, the year that construction on Trump Tower was completed, a man in a blue wig and a blue hat with a Texas flag on it squelched up the 71 stories of the Allied Bank Tower in Houston so he could plant a Texas flag at the top.
Remove the suction cups and the list grows much longer; protesters have a longstanding belief that their chances of being heard increase exponentially the higher they are above the ground. Non-terrestrial civil disobedience has been deployed by anti–ocean dumping mountain-climbers who dangled from the Triborough Bridge, a guy who summited the Colosseum to protest his lack of a license to sell transistor radios on the street, environmental activists who scaled the London Shard, the people who shimmied up Stonehenge angry about changes to the Summer Solstice events, the woman who hoisted herself up the flagpole outside the South Carolina state Capitol to remove a Confederate flag, Mexican-American activists who headed to the top of the Alamo to take down the Texas flag, a woman who sat on top of a statue of Brigham Young to show support for the Equal Rights Amendment, the many people who have sat in trees out West, and Steve-O from Jackass, who thought climbing a crane was the best way to protest SeaWorld.
This also wasn't the first time something had been climbed in the name of Trump. In 2009, Scottish environmental protesters angry about a proposed airport expansion in Aberdeen — where Trump was in the process of building a golf resort — dressed up like Trump and climbed on top of one of the airport terminals' roofs, where they then played golf for a few hours. During this year's Republican National Convention, activists climbed flagpoles outside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland to put up signs protesting Trump's plan to build a wall (as well as Hillary Clinton's stance on fracking).
It seems unfair to compare these protests to what happened on Wednesday at Horde of the Pings: The Trump Tower, mostly because the people craning up to stare at Steve from Virginia were far more entertaining to watch than the black dot inching up Trump's wall so slowly that people who thought Slow TV: National Knitting Morning was riveting probably wanted to change the channel.
Across from street from the Gucci store worth more than Mitt Romney, it felt like tourists had been commissioned to take part in a performance-art project meant to compress all the emotions felt while watching the 2016 election into a single afternoon. A toddler was screaming "I CAN'T SEE IT" next to a 20-something yelling "Let's Go Steve!" while staring down at his phone. Most people, in fact, alternated between staring up at Trump Tower and looking down at their screens; even though they were standing right in front of the spectacle, the views were still better on Twitter. There were the European tourists, somewhat disgusted about what was going on but also unable to look away. The person closest to the barricade was carrying a sign for Hunan House on W 56th Street, somewhat apathetic about the mayhem but compelled to dive into the middle of it for financial gain. There was one man in a green plaid shirt with a white "Make America Great Again" hat and a "The Silent Majority Stands with Trump" sign. He briefly stood near a man with a "No Plane Hit the WTC" sign. Photographers looked exceptionally bored while they tried to find an interesting shot to take of the crowd, a Times Squaresian cross-section of suits, shorts, selfie sticks, Midwesterners, and people who just wanted to get across the street. One woman wore a shirt that read, "I was there..." on the back. Another shook her head. "I'm worried," she said. "Everyone's gone crazy."
Many more were completely perplexed, if obviously knowledgeable about everything Trump-related. "Trump's in Virginia; why is everyone here?"
Meanwhile, the NYPD was shattering the outside of Trump Tower — a strange, literal self-refutation of broken-windows policing — in an effort to block Steve from Virginia's path like he was a Nintendo character scaling a rock wall. He was eventually shucked from the wall, resisting so much that it gave you an idea what it would look like if anyone forcibly tried to remove Trump from the air when he was in the middle of a TV hit.
Unfortunately for the man who thought Trump was his Republican Rapunzel, waiting up in the penthouse for a helping hand, the best way to get the candidate's attention really would have been to stay home. As one of the onlookers noted, Trump from New York was in Steve from Virginia's very own state on Wednesday. The candidate did send a tweet about the kerfuffle, although it was so devoid of exclamation points or Sad!s that Steve can't even consider it a victory.
Once Steve was in the window-cleaner carriage, no longer attached to Trump Tower, his ascent to the 68th floor accelerated. For a moment, right before he reached the roof, he existed on the same plane as Trump's palace — before disappearing and leaving behind yet another Trump story that makes no sense.
There was nothing left to watch, but the audience was still gaping. "I have no idea what's going on," one person said. A father with two children arrived just in time for the excitement to be over, but still they looked up. "We're just looking at a building," he said. "I can't take it anymore," a member of a nearby couple said, as they walked away in frustration, leaving behind a few stragglers and the man with the "Make America Great Again" hat, who was busy taking a selfie in front of the few flashing ambulances and police cars that remained.