On Being a Tourist in Your Hometown… And Facing Fears

“I think fearless is having fears but jumping anyway.”

~Taylor Swift

On my latest trip home, I decided to do something a little different. Wherever I go home, I see family, shop, and have great food and great drinks.  I will sometimes, depending on weather and schedule, make it into the city proper, but usually to meet up with someone or enjoy a good meal.

It has been forever since I did some of the quintessential Chicago things that people coBut I don’t know how I feel about a 45 min cab ride by myself me from far an wide to partake in. It has been forever since I was a tourist in my hometown.

So that’s what I decided to do. I packed my gear and hopped a train, so I could shoot the Chi. I had originally planned to only shoot Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park before heading to a meeting. But while waiting for another meeting, I was bored. I got tired of wandering, and I came up with an idea…


The Sears Tower. Now I know it is called “Willis Tower” now, but I am from Chicagoland and when I grew up it was the Sears Tower. It will always be the Sears Tower. I decided to take the trip up to kill time. But first, I called: to make sure that the elevator up to the top was not glass bottom.

So let me explain something about myself. I have zero fear of heights. None whatsoever. Has never been an issue. My fear, my issue, is with having a lack of solid ground beneath my feet. A serious issue with it. It’s a miracle I have lived in LA for so long. Heights mean nothing; I walk around the grates/vents on sidewalks.

So before I even thought about going up 103 stories, I had to make sure that the elevators up were legit elevators. The nice lady explained to me that the Skydeck was solid floor and that there are glass-bottom sections that one can venture out onto. Satisfied with that answer (and that I would not spend 103 stories up and down having a nervous breakdown), I decided to go up to get some shots from the top of the city.

And dope shots I got. Chicago is world renowned for its skyline for good reason. But this vantage point was special. I took many shots all around the 360 degree views of the city and surrounding area.

When I made it around to the glass-bottom part, I scoped out the scene. Sticking out beyond the building is a glass enclosed “cube” that people could go in and take pictures and check out the view of the city. From the safety of the solid floor, I peered out at the glass enclosure. People were laying on the glass, facing down, and taking pictures. Pure insanity.

It was at this point I started thinking. “Tyra, you are here, wouldn’t it be great to say you did this, despite your fears?” “When is the next time you will be at Sears Tower?” “How awesome of photos will these be?” “It probably won’t be as bad as I think. Isn’t that what they always say about conquering fears?”

Wrong, wrong, wrong, and more wrong. It was 472 times worse that I thought. But let me back up to how I got there.

I decided to do it. I talked myself into it. So I assessed the situation. I clearly determined I wasn’t sitting nor laying on the glass… that’s just insanity. So once it was a little less crowded, I slowly inched myself out onto the glass. Like literally inched. I took a few shots and moved out a little further. The scenery was gorgeous. And so was the view down.

Then I started to feel it. A little bit nervous. I was barely on the Skydeck (with my shoes right up to the edge of the regular floor and the deck. But I felt it nonetheless. Uneasiness.

At this point I decided I should take a selfie. Because no one would ever believe I actually did this. As I snapped a couple of quick shots, I had to take my hand off of the solid wall that I was holding onto. Then I felt it again. This time it wasn’t uneasiness; now, it was heart palpitations. I was in the midst of a concealed panic attack. This was going so, so much worse than I could have imagined. Sometimes fears exist for a reason.

A young girl near me said she was ready to be off of the glass because she felt “very uncomfortable.” She couldn’t have been more than 12 (remember, kids are usually daredevils), but I couldn’t have agreed more. As I was was clutching the wall again and about to inch my way back inside, someone asked me if I wanted them to take a picture. I hesitantly agreed, again because I knew no one would believe I did this. But let me tell you they could not click the shutter fast enough.  I got off of that thing with the quickness.

After I was back on solid ground, I needed a breather. I went to the wall and sat down to change my camera lens. But really, to distract myself so I could subconsciously pull it together. After a minute or two, I was fine. I went back around regular the viewing area taking additional photos.

When I later looked at the selfies I took, I had to laugh. I knew when I was snapping the photo, but I couldn’t even muster a genuine smile. It looked so forced. And there was so much fear and concern in my eyes. My entire experience was pretty much summed in two quick selfies.

I got on the Skydeck thinking I was going to conquer something, that I would realize that my fear was irrational. All of the nopes. I didn’t happen. I faced my fear, that’s for sure, but I by no means conquered it. If anything, I reinforced it. I never have to get on the Skydeck or anything to that effect again. The experienced reinforced my staunch refusal to never even consider the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon… for what? At the very least, I can say I did it, and I have an amusing story to tell. But I won’t be doubling down on this one, not by a long shot. Later that day, I made it to some other spots, including Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park. I had an excellent day playing tourist in my hometown.

Onward and upward… just not literally.

To check out my gallery of photos of Chicago, click here! More photos coming soon!


I am a lawyer. I am a journalist. I am a writer. I am a photographer. And I love to travel.

34 comments on “On Being a Tourist in Your Hometown… And Facing Fears”

  1. You are brave. I have seen that glass cube and I am always like NOPE never…but I get why you did it and I also got why you got all the way off too. I would have a baby panic attack its beautiful but its SCARY!!! I am glad you got your shots but lord…my heart!!

  2. LOL..girl I’m over here chuckling but as I was reading my heart started racing when I saw the glass floor. I know I would have had passed out. I mostly conquered my fear of heights but a glass floor is on another level. Kudos to you for giving it a go. Chicago is beautiful

  3. Tyra, you had me cracking up on this post! I’m with you on the heights. Not cool. Funny thing is, I love to fly though. In a nice-size enclosed airplane. I also did the SkyWalk at the Grand Canyon with a friend who didn’t really explain CLEARLY to me what we were going to be doing. Although I will absolutely visit the Canyon again, I don’t need to do that SkyWalk thing again. There are some fears that don’t need to be conquered—just avoided 🙂 Now you know.

  4. First of all, congrats on conquering your worst fear. The views and photos look ah-mazing but I know they were not easy to get. I remember the first time going to the grand canyon and seeing their walkway made of see through glass…I almost had a panic attack and refused to walk on it.

  5. I Love Chicago! Lived there a few years after finishing college and before moving abroad. The best food and its heaven for an architecture lover like me. Great post.

  6. Your city is beautiful! I haven’t been there since I was a young girl. My sister recently got her orders to move there and I am so excited that I will be able to visit the ChiTown soon. Your pictures are beautiful and congrats on conquering your fear!

  7. you did good! I probably would have went into full fledged panic attack mode and someone would have had to come pry me away from the wall hahaha. It’s been forever since I’ve done touristy things in NYC and some people are always surprised about the things I haven’t done since I live here.

  8. Never been to Chicago to visit at least only landed in the huge airport to transfer to my destination. I would be scared …you did not look fearful by your selfie …Great article.

  9. Good for you! I would’ve never known you were nervous by that selfie :)… Next time we’re both home I’ll join you! I have the same fear 🙂

  10. Really amazing photos! I love Chicago, the architecture is awesome! Great job for conquering your fears and getting out there on the glass, I’m sure I would’ve been a little scared, too!

  11. I’m from Chicago I have NEVER called it the Willis Tower! It is, and will FOREVER be the Sears Tower! Back in July two of my best friends came down to Chicago to visit me and I took them to the Skydeck. I’ve only been 3 times but every visit is so much fun! it’s weird because I’m so afraid of heights but for some reason the Skydeck doesn’t scare me <3

  12. You are a brave, lady! Kudos for facing your fears. I think my knees would buckle and I would probably sweat too should I went up there but I would force myself to give it a shot 😀 Chicago is beautiful btw!

  13. I’ve never been to Chicago but I would love to. I do know your feeling. I’m near Orlando and I totally get it. You are one brave girl. It wouldn’t be me up there. Heck no!

  14. I don’t like heights at all so I would have never stepped foot into that glass cube. But I’ve got to tell you, those are some pretty cool photos. Glad you conquered your fear of not being on solid ground.

  15. I’m so glad you “faced” your fear. I know you don’t plan on going to places with glass floors often, but facing them can be good for you. My husband is afraid to fly, which limits us a lot, and I wish he’d face them so we can visit people or he could take a job interview in another state if we need to.

  16. I have a fear of heights now that I never had till I was in my 30s. It drives me crazy because I have no idea why it started and I know it is irrational. Good for you!

  17. I love Chicago! You definitely got some gorgeous shots – and I’m the exact same way with the Toronto Skydome. I don’t care if Rogers bought it and it’s now “the Rogers Centre” – it has always been and will forever be “the Skydome.”

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