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Take a Stroll… with Rob Delaney - We Jumped Off the Manhattan Bridge

One night in the summer of 1999 I jumped off the Manhattan Bridge. It wasn't a suicide attempt--I had a bungee cord attached to my ankles. But it was still illegal and not part of any tour package or team-building exercise

by Rob Delaney
Jul 9 2011, 12:00am

One night in the summer of 1999 I jumped off the Manhattan Bridge. It wasn’t a suicide attempt—I had a bungee cord attached to my ankles. But it was still illegal and not part of any tour package or team-building exercise.

I’d just graduated from NYU and was working as a waiter at the Atlantic Grill on the Upper East Side. On the night in question I ate probably 25 pieces of exotic sushi that patrons had left untouched on their plates. Rich people ate there and thought nothing of ordering $200 worth of sushi and eating half of it. What was I supposed to do, not eat it?

Around eleven I split up my tips with the bus boys and took the 6 train back to Alphabet City, planning to drink a twelve-pack of Lowenbrau without assistance.

When I got back to my apartment my roommate, Kiyash, was pacing around and smiling.

“Guess what I’m gonna do tonight?” He asked.


“I’m gonna bungee jump off the Manhattan Bridge!”

Rather than ask him any details I told him I was coming with him and we headed out the door to meet “some guy who has a bungee cord” near the Brooklyn on-ramp to the Manhattan bridge. Kiyash didn’t know the cord owner, but he did know a Polish guy who knew him, so we went to meet his friend Dariusz at a bar. Dariusz told us how he’d learned the hard way that day that wearing a tiny Speedo bathing suit to the beach draws a lot of attention in the US. He presented Kiyash and I with a cogent argument as to why brief-style bathing suits are superior and why American men were silly for not wearing them. We told him he’d made a great case but that American women tended to prefer a little mystery where a man’s junk dimensions were concerned, even though solving such a mystery might involve facing down a disappointing penis lurking in the shadow of a fat gut after drinking a bucket of wine coolers at a rented beach house.

After bonding with Dariusz, we headed out to meet the guy who’d show us how to jump off a bridge.

About 15 people were gathered on a busy corner of Flatbush Avenue waiting for the guy with the rope. For something wholly illegal and intrinsically dangerous, it was a rather well-advertised operation. After a few minutes, “Tony” arrived and led us along Flatbush Avenue toward the on-ramp to the bridge. Since the subway uses the same bridge, we were instructed to “lie down” if it passed because we didn’t want the conductors to see us. Tony had me carry the bungee cord in a big bag. It weighed maybe 50 pounds. When we’d covered some distance, he handed out walkie talkies set to the police frequency to a few of the “customers” (he’d asked us each to give him twenty dollars). He told us to listen for any discussion among the cops about a “large group of people sneaking onto the Manhattan Bridge with crazy gear.” He said that it’d be hard to get away if they wanted to arrest us, so what we were really listening for was any mention of “Truck 2 or Truck 6.” He said that those names referred to “tactical anti terrorist units that would kill us first and then figure out who we were.” He said if we heard that those groups were being sent for the bridge that we should drop everything, run, and not stop until we were in New Jersey. I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but I listened very carefully for Trucks 2 and 6 for the next few hours.

We walked out over the East River, hitting the floor whenever a train came by, and made it about 1/8 of a mile from the Brooklyn shore before setting up our station. Our first instructions from Tony were to climb down a level on the bridge and, I swear to God, disable the red lights that hang from the bridge to tell airplanes, “Hello. I am a bridge.”

I’m sure that today, New York law enforcement would “Truck 6” your ass off in a heartbeat, but our adventure took place two years prior to the 9/11 attacks, so we didn’t imagine anyone would be too upset that we were turning a piece of vital metropolitan infrastructure into an amusement park ride and making it partially invisible to air traffic.
Then Tony, who claimed to be a “theatrical rigger,” took out the bungee cord and secured it to something. To what? To a piece of bridge, I guess. Tony asked who wanted to go first and some guy volunteered. Before he let the test subject jump, Tony thrust a tape recorder in the guy’s face.








He jumped, screaming. It was loud for a fraction of a second, then immediately much quieter, as though someone had very quickly turned a volume knob down. The reason his screaming got quieter, to us, is that he had just jumped off a bridge. I looked over the edge and he had disappeared into the black. Disabling the bridge’s lights had effectively shrouded us in inky darkness. I very sincerely believed the rope had broken and he had gone into the river. I was certain I’d helped facilitate the death of someone. Someone stupid, like me.

But then Tony yelled “You alright down there?” and the test subject meowed a weak “Yes.”

Then a cop car pulled up at the water’s edge in Brooklyn.

There was no activity on the scanners, but Tony yell-whispered down to Jumper One, “Just chill out for a second; don’t move.” Kiyash and I looked at each other, incredulous. “Don’t move?” What if his head filled with blood and exploded? How long can a person hang upside down without passing out or becoming permanently stupid? What if Truck 6 fired a missile up his defenseless asshole? After a few terrifying minutes, the cop left, not having seen us. We threw another rope with a carabineer down to Danglin’ Dave, he hooked it onto his waist, and we manually pulled him back up to the bridge.

Then it was my turn. Though I counted maybe eleven reasons as to why I shouldn’t jump, several of them potentially fatal or crippling, and all of them criminal, I was determined to have a stranger tie a rope around my ankles and leap off that bridge at three in the morning, as planned.

Tony stuck his tape recorder in my face.



(I must point out that Kiyash made fun of me without interruption for several years at how much naked fear was audible in my shaky high-pitched voice as I answered Tony’s questions.)






I jumped.

I looked out over a sleepy, twinkling Manhattan as I plummeted into the night. It was wonderful and visceral, like my mind and body were violently wiped clean and rebooted to take in the majesty of the experience. It felt like a reverse birth as I flew into and through the darkness toward the river. Then the slack in the cord tightened as my rocketing mass stretched it to its limit and I shot skyward (and bridgeward) almost as fast as I’d descended. I made it almost to the bridge, then fell again and began a series of bounces. It was like being in a giant glitter globe as the city’s lights shook around me. I felt entirely buoyed and supported and loved by the dirty river, the ugly bridge, the beautiful city, and the questionable rope. Then Tony threw down the “yank ‘em up” rope and after it swung past me a few times I was able to grab it, hook it to my waist and get pulled back to the bridge by my fellow jumpers.

Then Kiyash and the others jumped, one by one. Finally we packed up as the sun rose and went home to sleep, arriving in full daylight. I wouldn’t do it again but I'm glad that I can say I jumped off the Manhattan Bridge and you, statistically, cannot.!/robdelaney