Thursday, February 22, 2018


            It’s difficult, for an English major, not to see everything as a metaphor.

            A few days ago, we got stuck on an elevator. Kim suffers from pretty severe claustrophobia, but she has managed to ride the elevator in our building when she is with me and extremely fatigued or carrying groceries or camera gear. Or when she has had a drink. We got on down the hall from our 3rd floor condo, the elevator stopped to pick up a guy on the second floor, and when he pushed the button to go down, nothing happened. We waited a moment, and I re-pushed the “G” button for ground floor. Nothing. I pushed the button for the second floor, where we were stalled – nothing. Then the lights on the control panel went out, though fortunately the overhead lights were still on.

            At this point we learned that our fellow passenger suffered from claustrophobia worse than Kim’s. He was a big guy, well over six feet, with tattoos crawling out above his shirt collar. At that height he could begin pushing at the ceiling panels, though it was not clear how that would help. He also called 911.

            Kim fought off her own anxiety in an effort to calm the guy down. “Take a deep breath. Another one. Sit down if that helps.” It probably didn’t help him, but I think it helped Kim control her own feelings.

            Meanwhile, I found the button on the panel to call for Emergency Assistance. I connected with Otis Elevators, but they put me on hold. No, it was not amusing. After about 30 seconds I heard a live human voice very faintly from the tiny speaker about two feet above the floor. I got down on my knees to hear – a submissive posture, to be sure. I explained the situation, hoping they could hear better than I could. I gave them my cell phone number. They said, I think, that they would be sending a mechanic, though it might be 15 or 20 minutes. I told them that sooner would be better. A lot better. Our companion was starting to hyperventilate.

            At that point we heard voices coming through the door, and then – hallelujah! – the door opened. We saw the smiling face of Raymond, who works for Grand Traverse Commons. He had seen from the first floor that there was a problem, so he took the stairs to the second and pushed the door open with his hands. Kim started trembling as she emerged and gave way to her anxiety. Tatoo-guy, Kim’s alter ego, was bent over, breathing hard.

            We took the stairs down. Out in the parking lot, 10 degrees, wind and fresh air felt great.

            Twenty minutes later we were walking into a presentation on Michigan butterflies when my phone rang. “Are you still on the elevator? We can get a mechanic out there in 15 to 20 minutes.” It had been almost an hour since we first called – though Kim and I had differing estimates of how long we’d been stuck on the elevator.

            At that point we decided to live in a home that did not have an elevator. 

            I suppose we are all trapped, one way or another. And short of redesigning elevators for claustrophobes, we should have an escape plan, though it may not work any better than the “Emergency Assistance” button on our elevator: Carry your cell phone (check), make sure salt doesn’t clog the elevator’s door track (check), and tell folks how to manually open a stuck door (check). Failing that, we may have to hope: that the Otis repair guy doesn’t break his leg skiing (ours did), or that we have a Raymond come along to rescue us. How do we encourage that? My only suggestion is to make regular deposits in the Karma Bank so you can make a withdrawal when needed. Or – take some deep breaths, and sit down, if that helps.

Vince Simmons wrote:

     Many years ago I was in Buenos Aires, and was leaving my hotel. I can't remember what floor I started on, but was heading toward the lobby when the elevator failed to stop at G or L or 0 or 1. Whatever. 
     I went into the basement, but the elevator door there had been boarded up. No cellphone in the 70's but somehow i managed to communicate (I don't speak much Spanish) with staff at the hotel who tried to rescue me. First they had to ply off some plywood and get the basement door open, which was maybe 5 feet above the floor of the elevator. Then they pried open the elevator door about half way and hauled me out. Fortunately I'm not claustrophobic. But I was late for my lunch with friends from the meeting I had attended and had an interesting story to tell.

1 comment:

  1. Always been my greatest concern, getting trapped in an elevator. I usually get trapped in bathrooms when the door knob falls off, or the stall door gets jammed. I ask Jim if he would come and rescue me if he noticed I was gone for a long time. I already know the answer to that question.