At my workplace, there are lots of elevators, and almost everyone uses them. Stairs are fine if I’m traveling one or two floors, but, despite all my recent, amateur fitness achievements, I’m generally not up for walking seven flights of stairs.
It’s not that the elevator itself is bad. But being in the elevator with other people is kind of painful. Not torturous like a dinner party, but awkward. I blame it on the introversion and the whole small-talk-is-excruciating thing. Small talk is dreaded, and I am dreadful at it.
When standing at the elevator waiting area, I wonder if, when the door opens, there will be others inside. A very full elevator is intimidating because I feel like everyone is staring at me. I enter anyway and do the closed-mouth, pseudo-smile. Then, we all look at each other’s shoes. Flats, dress, casual, clogs, heels. Occasionally someone looks up to see what floor we’re on.
An elevator with just one or two others is nerve-wracking, too, because of, you know, the small talk thing. Should I say, “Hi”? Should I engage in the meaningless “How-are-you?-Fine.-How-are-you?” exchange?
Then, there are the times when the other person in the elevator is someone I’ve interviewed for a story. I say, “Hi,” but I’m not sure if the interviewee remembers me. Should I re-introduce myself? Should I just act like I don’t remember the very long hour I spent in his or her office, discussing scientific research that I pretended to understand?
So the good news about elevators is that being in one is usually a very short occurrence, right? Well, this all came into question last week when I was on the elevator, going down, with eight or so others, and things got out of control. No, really. It felt as though the elevator lost control and began falling more quickly than usual. THEN, the elevator stopped abruptly, presumably between floors. A mysterious voice came over a previously unnoticed speaker: “You are experiencing technical difficulty.”
We all looked at each other. One rider immediately went to the worst case scenario when she said, “There isn’t enough oxygen in here for us to survive very long.”
After I digested that information, my thought was, “If we get stuck in this elevator, I will make my way around and talk with everyone one on one to hear their life stories. No group-dinner-party-style conversations.
A voice of reason interrupted my thoughts. “Someone should probably hit the red button – the one that says EMERGENCY.” So the person standing closest to the buttons did, and the elevator, which was originally going down, started moving up. It stopped on the next floor, and the doors kindly opened. Whew.
I blurted, “I’m getting out of here. Not risking that again.”
I’m pretty sure everyone else in the elevator opted for the stairs at that point, too. They were all worried about the oxygen issue. Me? I was terrified of the group conversation.
Elevators. Nerve-wracking if they work correctly. Nerve-wracking if they don’t.