I have worked in an old building. A building old enough to be an historic landmark. And, with all things old, not every little cog and gear functions as it should.
I have been around that place plenty. I know what stairs lead to what storage facilities. What doors will slam. Where to go where no one will find you for hours. I have, at one point or another, peed in every (functional) toilet in the place. Men’s and women’s. (You have your goals, I had mine.)
By the ten-thousand-hour rule, I get to be an expert. And as an expert, I have told people, over and over, one very simple rule.
Never use the elevators. If you have to, fine. But if you can avoid it? Never, ever, use the elevators.
I have gone into secret places beneath the floors and flipped giant breakers. I have walked fire department folks from the loading dock to the offender. (There are multiple elevators, all with their own unique quirks.)
The most interesting one, the elevator I would use in a horror movie, is a special kind of terrifying. First off, it is one of those that loads you in one set of doors, then lets you off through doors on the opposite side. I do not trust any mechanism that cannot use the same doors twice. Who is to say that the decades-old machine remembers when to open what set of doors? Is this a decision that should be made with people suspended stories above the earth? I offer, no.
For extra fun, it jumps. It takes you about eight feet off the ground. It starts to slow as it approaches its endpoint. Then it jumps. With a shudder, you suddenly bounce six inches up and six inches down. After that rollercoaster has been ridden, then it will raise another three inches. Only then will the doors oh-so slowly creak open and release its captives.
“Do not use the elevators. Just do not.” Said it a million times. Always gave the new folks a heads’ up.
Do they listen? Funny you should ask…
I had a cart full of gear that I needed to take down a floor. If I took the cart down the ramp, it would set off an alarm. (Or, depending on the day, not. Sometimes I take one piece of gear out and the alarm blares at me. Sometimes I take an entire cartful and it does not make a sound. Because computers.) I was trying not to disrupt the three hundred people around me. I was in a hurry. Thus, in a move that made me nervous, I took the elevator. Thankfully, it worked. No quirks. No involuntary detention. It did its job and I was able to do mine.
The minutes counted down to the end of my shift. If I took care of the gear for my coworker, I could flee and leave the night’s work to him.
I heard him on our comm system. I finished my task. I overheard more chatter on the comm system. A supervisor from another department hurried through, a security member right behind him. They looked. They paused. When pressed, they told me that the elevator had gotten stuck. My coworker was stuck in the elevator. The very same elevator I had used not twenty minutes before.
I chuckled. I rolled my eyes. I called him up on the comm system. He was fine. He had his phone. There was internet. If the carpet in the elevator had been a little bit cleaner, he could have taken a nap. Security asked if wanted them to call the elevator techs or the fire department.
Two hours later, the techs finally sprung him.
I do not know how he spent his two hours. However, if it were me, it would have gone something like this:
First five minutes: Push a button. Push the same button in a slightly different manner. Push the button with more force. Trying pushing surrounding buttons while pushing other buttons. Grumble at the button.
The next ten minutes: Jump. Jump a lot. Jump while pushing the button. Jump, then push the button. Push the button then jump. Jump harder. Jump and try to land at an angle. Jump and try to land at a different angle. Repeat while adjusting my landing variables.
The next fifteen minutes: Grumble. Pace. Grumble about how little room there was to pace. Grumble about being around a twenty-five-year-old piece of machinery. Vent about how gaskets and O-rings had every right to break down, but not on me. That they should have stuck it out a little bit longer.
The next five minutes: Check my e-mail. Again. See if anyone had e-mailed me, knowing full well that it was New Year’s and that nobody had.
The next ten minutes: Read e-mails that I had put off reading because they were bulk mailings. Learn one or two new things. Erase many of them because the events had already passed. Check for new e-mails again.
The next five minutes: Jump up and down. Partly in case the elevator just fell asleep and can be woken up and brought back to life. Partly because I would be bored. And what else is there to do?
The next twenty minutes: Give up and lie down on the floor. Think of the number of people that I could call, but do not. Let them live their lives out in the real world. Oh, to be as free as they.
The five minutes after that: Call my mom. “Hey Lady. I know it is late. What? 1 a.m.? Maybe if you had not moved to the East Coast. Hmm? Well, I mean, I would not call it an emergency. However, it would be accurate to say that I was being held against my will. What? I, er, technically it is not under duress. Why, how much money do you have? How much ransom would you be willing to pay for your youngest, and most exciting, offspring?”
For about thirty seconds: Check in with security over the comm system. Attempt to get a status update. Express desire to get out. Resign self to the fact that, no, I am not in control. Sigh loudly.
The five minutes that follow those: Grow weary of counting the fifteen floor tiles and try to count the tiny holes in the ceiling. Realize that I am outnumbered. Switch to a sampling method and attempt to multiply in my head. Most likely, fail at that. Round up. By a vast margin.
For half an hour after this and that: Play stupid games on my phone that really serve no purpose, other than to occupy me, and the time I have allotted. Remember that the games are much easier and more fun on an actual computer, not a tiny screen, and yearn for a bigger computer. Remember that there are better things to hope for and go back to yearning for wide open spaces.
For five minutes that come right after those: “Hi, God. Are you there? It’s me. Philip. ‘sup?”
For the last two minutes: Do stupid, silly, random physical stuff. Stretch. Handstands. (Confined spaces are helpful for those.) Maybe attempt a few push-ups?
Then comes freedom. Thank the tech profusely. Run out and see the sky with new eyes. Try to adjust to life without artificial lighting above. Go home to the cat. Realize that your furry roommate does not want excuses or stories. Just food. The end.
I reckon I should bring up a few favorable points here.
—It was not me that got stuck in the elevator! Ha! I told you! I warned you for months! Who has never gotten stuck? This guy! Why? Because he does not take the stupid elevators!
—It was almost me. If one more person had taken the elevator before, it would have been my turn.
—If I had not taken the elevator, my cohort would have gotten trapped when I was not there. And the three-hundred-plus people that we had waiting for a presentation would have grown increasingly impatient for two hours. That is what we call, “a close one.”
—A week later, I saw my coworker… after he just got off the elevator. The same elevator! Gah!
Sigh. I try to tell these kids. But all work relationships have their ups and downs.