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.