Americans are getting used to seeing large, concrete security barriers surrounding the buildings where they work, but not where they live. Residents at Chicago's John Hancock Center, who occupy some of the highest condominiums in the world, have just that. While they enjoy spectacular views of the city from 92 floors above street level, since September 11, they've had to make some adjustments.
People who live in the top half of the John Hancock Center the residential part say that the building is like a neighborhood. They joke that it's got everything but a mortuary. A person could live his entire life here and never need to set foot outside….
With its 96 floors topped off by a popular observation sky deck, the Hancock is actually like two buildings stacked one on top of the other. The lower 43 floors are home to international corporations, foundations, media outlets and other high-powered tenants.
But when you reach the 44th floor, you're in an altogether different zone. If there's a part of the building that serves as "Main Street" this would be it. There's a post office here, a dry cleaner, a swimming pool. This is where residents vote on election day. There's even a grocery store up here.
About seven weeks ago, a new product appeared at this check-out line… an emergency escape smoke hood that's designed to provide up to 20 minutes of filtered air. So far, residents have purchased more than 100 hoods.
The Csehills live up on 84. John Csehill became a distributor for the hoods after the events of September 11. He and his wife say that in the case of an emergency they don't want to be in the position of having safety equipment that their neighbors don't. "I didn't want to run into people in the stairwell looking at me like, well, you know, this is unfair, why didn't you tell me about this, John?? Can I take a hit off your air can?," he says.
Sondra Csehill gave birth to their second child, Dominique, on September 11, just hours after the collapse of the second World Trade Tower. She loves living in a skyscraper and says while she wouldn't give it up easily, she does get nervous sometime. "During the day, I'm with 2 kids alone and if we have to walk down 84 flights, how am I gonna get a 1 year old and a newborn down 84 flights?", she asks.
Like the other moms at her playgroup in the Hancock, she has prepared escape provisions that she keeps by her front door. These include a "snuggly" for her newborn and a backpack that's adjusted to fit her one and a half year old son… "So, if something happens I can throw the bigger one on my back and the smaller one in the front and get down the stairs," she says.
The Chicago Fire Department recently took the tenants in the lower commercial floors through an elaborate fire drill…
For most, it was a welcome event, especially after a bomb scare a few days earlier, when two of the building's commercial floors were temporarily evacuated. Residents are pleased that their building is being protected, but tolerance for certain safety measures can run thin.
Terry Passaro is annoyed by the 86 concrete barricades that recently sprouted around the perimeter of the building. She says they assault the 'sense of home' she and her neighbors covet… "They can't bring their groceries in, they can't bring their luggage in," she says. "What is America, is not barricades around tall buildings"
After the Sears Office Tower, the Hancock is the most high profile building on Chicago's skyline. But unlike the World Trade Towers, it does not represent the country's center of capitalism and many Hancock residents just don't feel their home is a target for terrorism…
"I do not feel any more at risk than anybody else…," says Michael Mader, who has lived on the Hancock's 82nd floor for the last seven years. He has what may be considered a fatalistic outlook, but it's one shared by many of his neighbors. "If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die. I dunno when, I dunno how, I dunno why and think how badly I would feel if I lived in fear for 6 years and died in 6 years for some other accident, I'm simply not gonna let this happen to me," he says.
So Hancock residents are opening their cars for daily inspections, and shuttling their groceries around concrete barricades… barricades which were recently painted black in an apparent attempt to match the building's exterior and make the abnormal seem normal.
Many residents maintain an optimistic, and some might even say naive view, that life in this building will eventually return to normal.