The Ups and Downs of the Elevator Life

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Those confined spaces remain central to our urban lives-and our fears

byChristopher Moore

I hate to write about it.I even hate to think about it.But the question comesto me, usually after the doorshuts. I wait for the movement.I look up, seeking thelittle illuminated sign to tellme where I am and where I'mgoing. There's a tiny, ugly pause.

After thelittle surge starts, I'm grateful, especiallywhen I've quickly and unpleasantly confrontedthe question, if only in my ownmind: What happens when my elevatorluck runs out?

I ponder the matter anxiously whenI'm alone in an elevator. Or when I'm readinga newspaper or watching a TV newsreport, like the ones last week about howthe average number of elevator inspectionsdone by the city's Department ofBuildings has decreased dramaticallyduring the past four years. That particulartidbit came after the awful death lastDecember in Midtown of Suzanne Hart, a41-year-old who died while tryingto board an elevator.

News is when the everydayturns horrific. I've spent enoughtime in a newsroom to know thatmuch. What happened in the Hartcase could have happened to anyof us. Such accidents also hithome because elevators remain such a part of our urban culture and commonexperience.

Responding to last week's report,Manhattan Borough President ScottStringer issued one of his ever-presentpress releases. This one wasn't bad. Herecommended carving the Department ofBuildings into two parts: the Departmentof Buildings, which would deal with development,and a new Office of Inspectionsto handle the inspections. Whether abureaucratic shift is needed or not, it'sclear New Yorkers need their elevators tobe tested and as secure as possible.

In my building, the elevators are arelatively social experience. In those confinedspaces, I've had better, albeit brief,conversations with strangers than I usedto have with some of my best friends inNew Jersey. Maybe it's knowing that thechat will be short. We get right to thepoint. When somebody asks how thingsare going, the answers tend to be shockinglyand refreshingly real. We've talkedabout the weather in there, yes, but we'vealso covered the pain of unemployment,the challenges of teaching college studentswho went to bad high schools,presidential primaries and the ongoingbalancing act of a decent romantic relationship.

Sometimes I wonder, does thishappen in other buildings?Granted, even in our building, elevatorpassengers have an annoying habit ofwanting to stop at other floors. Still, havingthose people around keeps me fromworrying about when the good elevators

might go bad. My basic understanding ofscience is pathetic enough for me to consider

the elevator's operation to be, basically,magic. So I go through much of mytime on the elevator wondering exactlywhen things will go wrong.

Sure, I go through life that way, too.When it comes to the elevator, though, Itend not to tell anyone. The questions runningthrough my mind seem so clearly nuts.Like?Should I have my cell phone withme every time I get on the elevator? If thisthing stops, how long will it be before I getout of here? Should I have used the restroombefore I got on? Would it be worse tobe stuck here alone or with that crazy ladywith the red hair I have never liked?

I'm crazy, but not alone. Last week, Iread exactly what to do when an elevatoris plummeting. The piece must havebeen in the Science Times section of the

New York Times, since it's the answer toa question I never would have asked-Science Times specializes in such cases.

The bottom-line advice this time was: liedown, as flat as possible, with your back

on the floor.This strikes me as unrealistic. In aplummeting elevator, I'm going to be fairlybusy screaming.

Christopher Moore is a writer living

in Manhattan. He's available by email

at and is on Twitter(@cmoorenyc).

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