When elevator gets stuck, some rise to the occasion

ROGER SIMON

March 15, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

I did not resent it when the elevator doors refused to open. Such things happen every day in America.

Last November, 11 people were trapped more than six hours in an elevator in a downtown Baltimore office building.

Eleven people got off the elevator after the rescue, anyway. How many got on, and how many were consumed so that the others could live, we may never know.

And all those people who bought my first book -- and dozens did -- will remember that I was once trapped in an elevator with Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene.

"It was about 100 degrees in that elevator," Greene later wrote. "We were belly-to-back; there was not an inch to turn around. One of the other guests -- he is a calm, intelligent, dignified columnist for another paper -- began scratching and tearing at the elevator door like a strongman trying to open a can of sardines with his bare fingers. For a few seconds, it had no effect; it was like a gerbil trying to get footing on a sheet of greased metal. But, amazingly, it worked. He yanked the door open, and we were almost level with the host's floor and we climbed out."

That calm, intelligent, dignified guy who nonetheless acted like a gerbil was me.

And you do learn a lot about people in an elevator crisis. Some stand and whimper. Others panic and begin pushing buttons. Others start thinking about how they should have gone to the bathroom before lunch and not after.

So a few weeks ago, I got trapped in an elevator in the office building that houses The Sun's Washington bureau.

It is a nice building. The management often provides parties for the tenants at which time cookies or slices of fruitcake are served.

But I have always wondered: Where does management get the money for these lavish giveaways? Now I know: They take it out of the elevator budget.

I rode up the elevator to The Sun's floor and the doors did not open. I pushed "Door Open." Nothing happened. I pushed the button for the floor above. The floor below. The first floor. I pushed the emergency bell.

I picked up the elevator telephone. And I did not resent it when it rang and rang and rang. Because finally a person answered.

I am trapped in your elevator, I said.

"Name?" she asked.

I don't know what the elevator is called, I said.

"Your name," she said.

My name? Why did she need my name? Were there so many people trapped in elevators that she needed to keep us all straight?

Then it hit me: She needed my name to identify the body should the elevator fall to the basement and turn me to jelly.

And I did not resent that. I just gave her my name.

"Did you push the 'Door Open' button?" she asked.

Yes.

"Did it work?"

Yes. That's why I'm calling. Because the button worked and now I am out of the elevator and I am just calling to make conversation. No, it didn't work!

"OK, we will call you back in three to five minutes," she said.

And I did not resent it when she did not call me back in three to five minutes or, in fact, ever. Because I know when people give you precise parameters like "three to five minutes" they are just trying to keep you calm.

Besides, my colleagues were now shouting to me through the elevator doors.

"You got anybody in there with you?" a colleague yelled.

In fact, I was alone, but I didn't want to say that. I wanted to make up a name important enough to make everybody speed up the rescue, but obscure enough so the person realistically could be with me in an elevator.

Al Gore is in here with me and he wants to get out pronto! I shouted.

"Forget it," my colleague said.

And then I began to hear the muffled talk through the door.

"If he doesn't make it, can I have his column?"

"Does he write a column?"

"Sure, what did you think he did?"

"I just figured he came in late and left early for a living."

And I did not resent that. Nor did I resent it when my screaming and pounding evoked no sympathy.

"Oh, stop making a fuss," another colleague said. "You know you'll get a cheap column out of this."

That I resented.

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