Thursday, August 4, 2016
Elevator Panel, Chicago, IL
I just returned from a couple of trips to Chicago and Kansas City where I briefly stayed in hotels with multiple levels which required elevators to ascend to my room and descend to the lobby. It occurred to me as I entered and exited these mechanical wonders of the world that we human beings can be very strange creatures in our encounters with each other.
On a number of occasions I started my vertical journey alone. But then the elevator stopped on another level and complete strangers entered my confined space. Silence ensued as the other humanoid quietly pressed a numbered button. As the doors closed on the two of us, the silence became deafening. The two of us were stoically staring intently at the flashing floor numbers that would ultimately hit the magic number we were so desperately seeking which would free us from such an uncomfortable situation. There really isn’t time to strike up a civil conversation. Sometimes folks are so desperate to escape from this “uncomfort zone” that they bolt off into the hallway when the elevator stops at a floor before their intended stop, without even realizing that it is not their destination until after the doors close behind them.
Realizing that most folks immediately find themselves out of their comfort zone once they enter the confined space of an elevator, I’ve adopted a couple of “ice breakers” to ease their anxiety. Sometimes I’ll stand by the floor selection buttons and ask the total stranger what floor they would like? Then I push the button for them and remark that “I’ve been interning on this job now for three weeks and I’ve almost learned all the routes!” That generally eases their anxiety, unless they take me seriously. Other times I just stand stoically at the back of the elevator and let the person enter and select their own floor. Then they silently stand by and nervously eye me with darting side glances to try to determine if they have just closed the door on a serial killer or someone who just triggered a bed check back at the home. I find a casual remark like “I’m wearing new socks today” generally communicates that I’m not a serious threat.
Elevators that become filled to capacity are another issue. Now you have unknown people, some with claustrophobic and dubious personal hygiene tendencies, physically invading your personal space and rubbing thighs and arms against one another. One of my favorite Gary Larson Far Side cartoons shows an elevator slammed full of people with the doors just beginning to close. One of his goofy characters has brought his pet lion on board and everything is in order with the exception of the lion’s tail which is still dangling outside the closing doors. The lion’s clueless owner is telling the wide-eyed riders,” Oh don’t worry. He’s never a problem as long as nothing surprises him.”