Landmark Anchors

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Visitors walk beneath the Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, July 21, 2016.

Being born and raised just a stone’s throw from downtown Chicago, the iconic Sears Tower has always been a visual anchor of home on the horizon. If I may, before expounding any further, I will acknowledge that I just incorrectly referred to it as the Sears Tower. For, you see, there is only one person I’ll refer to as Willis, and his brother’s name was Arnold.

With my college education occurring just blocks from this stately edifice, I’ve seen her in just about every iteration one can imagine. I’ve seen her after she’s just opened her eyes, with her honey-splashed bronze windows squinting into the morning sun. I’ve seen her shivering in the dead of winter, with cotton candy clouds rising from between her twin ivory spires to fly with the “hawk” before melting into heaven. I’ve photographed her drenched, crying and screaming, waging a lofty melee with lighting bolts and biting gales. At times, I’ve watched as she’s softly slipped away from me almost entirely–all but her legs curling up shyly under velvety blankets of Lake Michigan autumn fog.

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A Gateway Arch stencil along the sidewalk.

The more I’ve traveled across our great planet, the more I’ve realized that everyone has their landmark anchor that keeps “home” from slipping too far adrift. For New Yorkers, it’s the Empire State Building. The Washington Monument nods a welcome to those returning to the “DMV,” and the Eiffel Tower calls, “C’est la vie” to Parisians in love. For St. Louis, The Gateway Arch is without question what yells forth, “You’re here” to lifelong residents and visiting travelers alike as they wrap their journeys.

There is no mistaking the Gateway Arch, no matter what light she’s present in when you first see her. We’ve met on five visits so far, and like the Sears Tower back home, she’s quite particular about her performance on a given day. She might appear as a grey, muted hump on a muggy horizon, draped in humid curtains thrown down from a blistering white Midwest sun. Other days, she might have stage fright, hiding all but a glimpse of her curves between downtown building walls. When she’s ready for the show, however, she’s sterling and bright! Sweeping up and down easy and free against a cobalt blue sky backdrop, her cast-mate visitors smile from ear-to-ear down below as their selfie-stick memories are sealed on her stage.

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Pedestrians walk past a reflection of the Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse.

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A blimp flies in the sky above the Gateway Arch.

For those not adverse to a bit of claustrophobia and vertigo, a trip to the top of the arch offers an unparalleled view. Those camera-toting strangers you glanced at earlier? They’re now your old friends as you press together leg to leg, shoulder to shoulder, inside near-miniature, five passenger tram cars. On the four minute trip up, the cars occasionally send a pang of terror through your soul, teasing your sense of safety as they lurch to and fro while self-leveling to compensate for the arch’s catenary curve.

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Visitors show their trepidation as they ride the north tram to the top of the Gateway Arch.

Once at the top, the cozy observation deck stretches forth ahead of you, with sixteen slits for windows (oft smudged with face prints from excited children) on each side offering glimpses of life east and west. I was delighted that the floor of the observation deck isn’t flat, but rather, follows the curve at the top of the arch–you truly get to enjoy the sensation of walking over the crest of this beautiful form at 630 feet up!

As my career begins to take more and more of a foothold beyond the familiar bounds of Chicago, I’m glad that I’ve started to strike up a relationship with some different landmark anchors across the world. Sure, some might be pensive at first. Some may not want to see me until I seek them out (thanks, Google Maps). Some are waiting with open arms for my arrival (“Big Ben” – we’re cool). No matter what the landmark, however, they’ve all helped in making my time on the road feel a little less lonely, and a lot more like home.

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Visitors on the observation deck at the Gateway Arch.

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A helicopter prepares to land along the Mississippi River below the Gateway Arch.

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Visitors peer through the windows on the observation deck.

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Visitors exit the north tram after descending from the top of the Gateway Arch.

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Detail of a weld on the Gateway Arch.

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Travel by Guy Rhodes on July 22nd, 2016.

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