Trapped in space: the upside of 2 1/2 -hour elevator nightmare


August 04, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Due to an editing error, a quotation in Roger Simon's column yesterday mistakenly indicated that Baja California is part of the United States. In fact, it is the Mexican peninsula south of San Diego.

The Sun regrets the error.

Paul Galloway called to tell me the benefits of getting trapped on an elevator for 2 1/2 hours.

"It is a very positive technique for learning about people," he said. "This man lives in my building, we have ridden on the elevator a number of times, but we have never spoken. Now, after being trapped in a very small chamber with him for 150 minutes, I feel as if I actually know him."

Get trapped on an elevator with the wrong person and you could get to know him too well, I said.

"No," he said, "I really recommend this. This could be a new form of therapy. Elevator Therapy. Bond with your neighbors. There could be something here."


Urban life means tall buildings and tall buildings mean elevators. Which get stuck all the time. I was unable to get elevator companies to admit how often their machines got stuck, but an extremely scientific survey (I asked 12 people in my office) indicates that 50 percent of everyone who rides regularly on an elevator has been trapped at least once for a significant amount of time.

"There were six of us in there," Galloway said. "My neighbor, who turned out to be a heart surgeon just back from Baja, Calif., to witness the eclipse of the sun. My nephews, Antares, 13, and Orion, 11, who are from Paris, and William, 8, my nephew from Chicago. And my wife, Maggie."

Antares? Orion? Those are unusual names.

"Exactly!" Galloway said. "And what are the odds of two kids named after stars to be trapped in an elevator with a doctor who just came back from witnessing an eclipse!"

Umm, 6-to-1? I said. Three-to-1?

"A million-to-one!" Galloway said. "Ten million-to-one! Anyway, William was a little scared at first and was crying a little, but the other boys calmed him down and William became proud of how well he was taking it."

William is 8, right?

"Right," said Galloway.

Offhand, I cannot think of a single 8-year-old in the world who, upon learning that he is trapped in an elevator, would not immediately say: "I gotta go to the bathroom." In fact, I'm not sure I wouldn't say it.

"And that is just what happened!" Galloway said. "Our first crisis! Fortunately, Maggie had a plastic cup with her. And also a big freezer bag in her purse. And so William used the cup -- we all turned our backs -- and we were able to seal it up in the freezer bag. And it was wonderful. We had survived! We were coping."

Has Oprah contacted you about this yet? I asked.

"Everyone was sitting down on the floor," Galloway said. "The fan was working and there was plenty of air. The doctor talked about how safe elevators were. Then we held a betting pool on how long we would be trapped. Orion won with two hours and 15 minutes. None of the rest of us expected it to be that long."

He was probably used to French elevators, I said.

"But being trapped in the elevator that long had enormous positives," Galloway went on. "One, I didn't have to show them the city. I was tired of showing them the city. Two, they were subdued by their own bravery and danger. And so they were quiet and easily controlled."

So you advise trapping all visiting children on elevators?

"It's not a bad idea," Galloway said. "Our mere survival was sort of heroic, and how many chances does modern life give you to be heroic? And it was very safe in there. A lot safer than going to see the 'Boyz N' the Hood' which is what they wanted to see."

Is this leading up to something? I asked.

"I've tried to think what if Saddam Hussein and George Bush were trapped on an elevator," Galloway said. "What do you think."

L I think that's an appallingly naive and stupid idea, I said.

"Yes," Galloway said. "You are absolutely right. It wouldn't work at that level. But it works on the level of ordinary people."

Personally, I think the worst thing about being trapped on an elevator -- except for the possibility of crashing to a sudden and horrible death -- is the incredibly stupid things the other passengers say. I have been trapped on two elevators and each time someone said: "I think I'm going to pass out!" And we had been trapped for about two seconds when they said it.

I think a person who is going to pass out should just do it rather than speculate on it.

"Nobody on our elevator said that," Galloway said. "Though William did say: 'We're all going to die!' "

Actually, I think that's preferable, I said.

"Yes," Galloway said. "Because that's when the doctor took charge and explained how we weren't going to die. And then my wife suggested we all introduce ourselves and that's when he started telling us about the eclipse."

Did the doctor introduce himself as a doctor?

"No," Galloway said. "We only found that out later."

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