Three Days In An Elevator

A New York woman who works for a couple that owns a five-story Manhattan townhouse walked into the elevator for the townhouse on Friday night.  The elevator got stuck, the couple was gone for the weekend, and the woman was trapped in the elevator for three days until she was rescued on Monday.

elevator-stuck.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartIt isn’t clear yet what caused the elevator to break down, or why it apparently wasn’t equipped with a call button that would allow the trapped woman to summon help.  She also apparently did not have a cell phone that could could have used for that purpose, either.

Unlike a prior incident of a person being trapped in an elevator for hours, there’s no video footage of the elevator interior that would show how the woman passed the time.  According to a report of the incident in the New York Times, the woman, whose name is Marites Fortaliza, was conscious and calm when she was finally removed from the elevator and taken to the hospital, and a relative of the townhouse owners who accompanied her to the hospital said she was “doing well.”  That probably means that Ms. Fortaliza had at least some water with her in the elevator, because three days without any water would run a serious risk of dehydration.

It probably also means that Ms. Fortaliza isn’t a claustrophobic, for whom three days trapped in a tiny, broken-down townhouse elevator would be one of the worst imaginable fates.  If you’ve ever been with someone with claustrophobic tendencies in an elevator that experiences any kind of unexpected pause, or bump, you have seen their look of abject terror at even the thought of being stuck in such a small space — and that’s in an elevator in a commercial building, which probably is larger than the elevator in a New York townhouse.  In fact, fear of being trapped in a stuck elevator must be pretty common, because a Google search yields lots of articles giving you instructions on what to do if it happens to you.  One thing is certain:  no claustrophobe would emerge from three days trapped in an elevator looking “calm.”

What’s your worst nightmare?  Whatever it is, remember — you should always keep your cell phone charged, and on your person.

If You Actually Got An Elevator Speech . . . .

You’ve probably heard of an “elevator speech.”  It’s supposed to a minute-long statement of the high points that you’d want somebody to know — about you, or your company, or the charity you support — that you could give in a brief ride in an elevator.

It’s a good concept . . . but if a stranger in an elevator actually turned to you and started speaking earnestly about something, you’d immediately rush to the bank of buttons and start stabbing the ones that would allow you to get the heck out of there as quickly as possible.  No rational person would violate the elevator code of conduct and give an elevator speech, which means you’re either dealing with a nut or about to be questioned intently about whether you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal savior.

Elevators are a realm of screaming awkwardness in the otherwise anonymous modern world.  People don’t like to make eye contact with strangers, but it’s required whenever  someone gets on the elevator.  That’s bad enough, but when the eye contact is made, you draw an instant conclusion about the new participant in the elevator zone, and you know they are doing the same about you.  If they foolishly depart from time-honored custom and actually mumble something, it will be likely be greeted with a stony silence and carefully analyzed by every elevator resident for the rest of the ride.  And God forbid that the entrants actually do something noteworthy — like a recent hotel elevator experience Kish and I had, where we helped a helplessly drunk, unsteady woman sloshing around a glass of wine who was almost knocked to the ground by the elevator door while her mildly intoxicated husband stolidly ignored her and pushed the button for their floor.  Nice guy!

Even in an office building, where you know some of the other riders, elevators are an uneasy place.  How often have you seen a distracted person start to get off at the wrong floor, realize their mistake, and turn beet red as they sheepishly re-board?  How often have ongoing, apparently animated conversations in the elevator abruptly ended just as you entered — leaving you wondering what the hell the people were talking about?  How often have you felt uncomfortable or embarrassed in the elevator car and intensely glad that you’ve finally reached your destination floor?

Yes, being in an elevator really kind of sucks.  I guess we should all try to take the stairs.

Down On Elevators

A horrible Midtown elevator accident has caused New York City workers to think twice about using the elevator and to take the stairs instead.

According to news reports, an advertising executive stepped onto an elevator in her building when the elevator unexpectedly shot upward, crushing her between the elevator and the surrounding wall.  Elevator inspectors are trying to determine whether electrical work performed on the elevator a few hours beforehand might have been connected to the incident.  In most elevators, sensors will not permit the elevator car to move unless the doors are fully closed.

Obviously, the woman’s death is awful — but part of the horror comes from the fact that it involves a mundane everyday event somehow gone horribly wrong.  Those of us who work in office buildings step onto elevators many times a day, without a second thought that there might be some mechanical failure that could be life-threatening to users.  We routinely entrust our well-being to technology in the form of large machines that move us from point A to point B and, necessarily, to the human beings who service those machines.  It’s unsettling to think that a single mistake by a mechanic could have such devastating consequences.

I always try to take the stairs at work, mostly because it seems like an easy way to get some exercise during the workday.  Now I’ve got another reason.