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.

The Generic Outerbelt Architecture Zone

Most major American cities have an “outerbelt” — a multi-lane highway that rings the core metropolitan area. Outerbelts are supposed to facilitate traffic flow and spur economic development. Unfortunately, outerbelts typically feature the ugliest, most generic modern architecture you can possibly imagine.

IMG_1860The picture accompanying this post was taken as we were driving along I-270, which is Columbus’ outerbelt. If I didn’t identify the location, though, people in Indianapolis, or Atlanta, or Dallas, or virtually any other American city might easily believe that the picture was taken on their ring road. The squat, featureless, five- or six-story brick or concrete office building is so ubiquitous you wonder why anyone hires an architecture firm these days. Don’t they just recycle the same boring designs endlessly? Don’t architects grow weary of designing utterly graceless, interchangeable boxes that can be plopped anywhere on an outerbelt and immediately be lost in the bland, maddening sameness?

People used to care about the buildings they constructed. They wanted them to be functional, sure . . . but they also wanted them to add to the beauty of their cities. Older buildings have all kinds of interesting cornices, and pedestals, and statuary, and other ornamentation that will make you stop and take notice. With modern buildings, that is no longer the case. Now, we drive by the generic outerbelt ugliness without a second glance, or even a thought.

If you drive to a city, your first impression of the town is created by what you see in the outerbelt zone. For most American cities I’ve visited, it’s not a positive first impression — instead, it makes you think the city is another boring, indistinguishable cookie-cutter exercise. Often, of course, the band of outerbelt ugliness doesn’t really reflect what the city is like. Why don’t city planners care more about the dismal impact of the outerbelt zone?

When You See Rat Poison In The Corner

Recently I was in an office building when I saw a black box in a hallway corner.  When I took a closer look, I saw that it was a “Rodent Baiter” bearing the prominent legend:  “Poison — Do Not Touch.”

IMG_1184Rat poison!  Rat poison?  And it was displayed in an open and notorious fashion, there for anyone to see.

When you notice a box of rat poison in a hallway corner, your brain receives a strong, jangling signal that puts the sensory organs on high alert.  You tend to tread lightly and keep your eyes on the ground, scanning constantly for any furtive movement that might be a sign of rodent activity and listening carefully for any rustling, scrabbling sounds.  And it’s a useful reminder, too, that lots of people live and work in older buildings that might have rats and mice scampering and gamboling in the basements.

Some years ago one of the surface parking lots in downtown Columbus discovered a major rat infestation underground.  The cellar of the building that had been there was simply filled with rubble and paved over, and the incompletely filled-in area became a rat’s nest.  When the area was exposed as part of some construction project, rats came boiling out of the ground.  Poisons were brought to bear, and for a week or so thereafter you could expect to see a staggering, dying rat, experiencing the final effects of the poison before going toes up.

It was a disconcerting sight — sort of like seeing an openly displayed box of “Rodent Baiter” rat poison in a hallway corner.

Geese Greeters

IMG_3189Today I went to a meeting at one of those office buildings that has lagoons in front, apparently to create a more pastoral feel.  The water may look nice, but it attracts Canadian geese — and two of them were standing by the front door, honking, hissing, and leaving deposits on the decorative brick entrance way as I walked in.  They aren’t the greatest greeters in the world.

If I had the choice, I think I’d forgo the water to avoid the geese.

The Space Heater Season

Today, in office buildings from sea to shining sea, men inevitably will be dealing with one of the most intractable problems known to nature.  For it’s February, and that means we’re in the midst of the space heater season.

The problem is straightforward.  The weather in February is awful and, worse, it’s unpredictable.  Maintenance staffs across the land will have heated their buildings to a entirely reasonable baseline temperature given the prevailing conditions outside.  For some people with two X chromosomes, however, that just isn’t good enough.  They’re too hot, or they’re too cold.  If they’re too hot, the windows get opened and cold air rushes in.  If they’re too cold — which seems to be a far more common condition — the space heaters get deployed.

A normally constituted man walking from office to office might move from a pleasant 70 degrees to meat locker conditions to equatorial heat in the space of 50 feet.  There is no way to dress properly for such conditions.  And if you are required to actually sit in one of the space heater offices, good luck to you.

The space heater is humming, its heating coils are blazing, and you feel the sweat beginning to trickle down the back of your neck.  Meanwhile the office’s occupant — who is probably wearing a sweater, to your amazement — yammers on, oblivious to the fact that conditions in their office are like those in the hot box used to punish disobedient prisoners of war in The Bridge on the River Kwai.  In short order you are focused solely on that suffocating heat, face flushed and nodding absently to every word, trying desperately to bring the conversation to a close so you can retreat to areas of the building where normal conditions exist.

I don’t doubt that space heaters serve a useful function, but I’m glad when the space heater season finally ends.