Canadian Karen Levy, 45, arrived here for a weekend getaway armed with a to-do list: Go out for dinner at world-class restaurants, catch a Broadway show and visit the city’s latest tourist attraction – Trump Tower.
In the weeks since Election Day, the home and office of the celebrity-turned-45th president has become the place to see and be seen.
Tourists mill around the marble lobby hoping to catch a glimpse of the kind of political celebrities seen on Sunday morning talk shows. Journalists shout questions to potential Cabinet secretaries before they enter the gold elevators to go upstairs for meetings. Vendors hawk red Make America Great Again hats.
Then there’s the Naked Cowboy, a well-known New York street performer who wears only a jacket, cowboy hat and boots, and white briefs while strumming a guitar and singing a little ditty about the man himself, Donald Trump.
“If you really want to make America great again, you voted for the man who’s on my rear end,” he croons before displaying underwear adorned with the word TRUMP spelled out in red and blue letters.
“We came because this is a little piece of history,” said Levy, a travel agent from Toronto. “The pandemonium, to see what’s going, the excitement. It’s something that I don’t know we will ever experience in our lifetime again.”
Trump could have used government office space as he prepares for his presidency. Instead, he’s chosen the 58-story building that has housed his company’s offices, his reality TV show and his presidential campaign.
The president-elect has spent most days since his victory high in the Midtown Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name and boasts a lobby open to the public from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Many developers, including Trump, cut deals when their buildings were constructed that allowed them to add extra floors if they agreed to provide space for the public.
I saw a lot of stamina in him. Even when everyone else was kind of giving up on him, he didn’t give up on us.
Karen Gilbert, 60, a first-grade teacher from Richmond, Texas
Tourists, journalists and employees are witness to many of the candidates he’s interviewing, the governors and lawmakers he’s seeking advice from, and business and television executives he’s huddling with.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence comes through frequently. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have stopped by. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley came for a job interview, as did Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo. Also spotted: Trump’s second wife, Marla Maples; Nigel Farage, the architect of the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote; and former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Quayle, who served under President George H.W. Bush, said he’d come to “offer personal congratulations” to Trump. “Things are in good hands, he's moving forward and he's going to make America great again,” Quayle said.
Not everyone can be seen, though.
A second entrance and set of elevators are out of the public’s view. Trump slipped out to a steakhouse for dinner recently without those in the lobby knowing.
Eric Byrum, his wife, April, and their sons, Tanner, 15, and Aidan, 13, waited in the lobby for someone famous to walk by before going to see the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. “Anyone will do,” Byrum said.
Byrum, a real estate agent from Virginia Beach, supported Trump in the election: “He speaks to middle-class people like us out trying to make a living. His message seemed to jell.”
We’re curious tourists. We just wanted to see the building. We came many years ago and just wanted to come back. Of course, it has more significance than it did 20 years ago.
Linda Watkins, 73, a retired secretary from Lindale, Texas
On the first floor, the Trump Bar serves drinks to patrons likely to catch the president-elect on the cable shows blaring on the TVs. A crowded Starbucks is just up the escalator. Downstairs, tourists can buy sandwiches, salads and ice cream before stopping at the kiosk that sells the hats, as well as shirts, candy and other Trump items. Buying a hat is considered a political contribution, because some of the proceeds go to the campaign.
The line there never seems to dissipate.
The entire spectacle, of course, is being watched carefully by the Secret Service and the New York Police Department, there to guard Trump and his family.
Outside, metal fences and concrete barriers surround the posh Fifth Avenue address nestled between Gucci and Tiffany & Co. Inside, there are cameras, metal detectors and X-ray machines.
I felt that of the choices he was the best one because he makes good business decisions and he surrounds himself with people who can get the job done.
Lisa Smith, 50, of Calhoun, Georgia
“This has been a lot of fun, coming down here for the day,” said Jim Zdun, 60, an investor from Austin, Texas, who’d traveled from Connecticut, where he was visiting family. “I’m really impressed at how well this is going, how organized it is, how civil it is.”
Zdun is a regular visitor to New York City but he recently made his first visit to Trump Tower. He saw TV personalities George Stephanopoulos and Wolf Blitzer head upstairs for a meeting between Trump and network executives and anchors.
“I’m a news junkie,” he said. “You can see so many people you see on TV, the news shows, the media. It’s just cool.”
The circus is unlikely to stop soon. Even after the inauguration, Trump is likely to commute between the White House and Trump Tower because his wife, Melania Trump, and son, Barron, 10, plan to live in New York until the end of the school year.