I don’t like heights. Or rather, I don’t like sudden drops. I get this chasm-opening feeling in my stomach whenever I look out of, say, a window high up in an apartment building that just completely swallows up my senses and makes me want to collapse in on myself repeatedly until I’ve reduced my entire being to a massless and gravity-immune point particle. There’s just something about heights like that. You’re completely alone when you’re high up, the whole world is reduced to just you and the sheer drop taunting you. It’s a fear probably more potent than any other I ever feel (that is except for offices without air-conditioning or the coming Swiftian apocalypse of course).
Oddly enough, as potent as my fear of heights can be, I’ve also always loved climbing things, ever since I was a kid. The higher the better. I’ve never been able to properly square these two seemingly opposing impulses, but I think it all comes down to the grip. When I have a good grip on something, the fear tends to dissipate, and a sense of control and serenity settles in instead. That and the fact that when you climb something, the height increases gradually. When you take a lift up a tall building, you either can’t see the ground falling away from you, or you see it but it happens too quickly. One minute you’re on terra firma, and the next among the clouds. It’s jarring and terrifying. When you climb, you can see it all happening, gradually, and each new grip reinforces your connection to something solid, something you can trust. Because of that, I’ve always fancied the idea that, given a decent set of edges or handholds, I could climb indefinitely.
And then I found out about tower maintenance and my fanciful pseudo-conviction fell off its chair and collapsed into a quivering, whimpering mess on the floor.
Tower maintenance is exactly what it sounds like. These are the people who look after the many wireless communication towers that we have erected around the globe—cell, radio, you name it—in order to make our information-driven lives possible. Maniacs who propel their tiny, fragile bodies up vertiginous constructions in order to service them. They ascend, hand by hand and foot by foot, peg by labourious peg, to impossible heights, a thousand feet or more sometimes separating them from the Earth that bore them. Frequently starting their climbs at the break of dawn or even earlier, tower climbers earn on average $44,250 per year. For the fatality rate, that does not seem like enough. According to some figures, between the years of 2003 and 2011, roughly 100 of these sky-scraping workers fell to their deaths. Often, unsurprisingly, these deaths have been attributed to the cost-and-corner-cutting that is inherent to the contracting and subcontracting capitalist model that has become so dominant over the last few decades.
And yet, despite the fatality rate and the disproportionately feeble remuneration, these climbers continue to climb. They don’t climb up hills, or mountains, where the ground at least has the decency to slope, raising you gradually higher and higher; no, they choose to shoot straight up, ascending structures that defy nature in order to spit god in the face.
(Turn the music off for this next one because I mean, what?)
(As mad as that all is, these are all people doing this for a job, with proper safety equipment at least. I am not gonna link to all those crazy motherfuckers that do this shit solo. I used to enjoy those videos in a way, until I inadvertently saw the video of the Chinese roof climber that plummeted to his death. Now, fuck that, I ain’t endorsing that.)
This guy? This guy here? Fuck this guy: