Monday, November 8, 2010


Do you ever think about elevators? I didn’t think so. Next time you are on one, pay attention to the details and oddities associated with elevators. Elevators provide more than just effortless transportation to the upper floors of a building.

Here are some random observations and questions about elevators:

Which way do you face? Some (it seems most) people enter, push the button for their floor, turn and face the door and wait till they reach their destination. Others move to one side of the other with their back to the corresponding wall, which means they are standing with the door to their right or left rather than facing it.

Which way do you turn to find the row of buttons? In the building where I work there are buttons on both sides, but it seems that almost everyone turns left to find the buttons as they enter.

What do you look at? Do you make eye contact with other people riding with you? Do you avoid eye contact? Do you look at the display indicating each floor, maybe staring at it for the whole ride up? Do you read, check your cell phone, stare at your shoes?

Do you speak to anyone in the elevator? You probably do if it’s someone you know, but what, if anything, do you say to strangers? “Great weather.” “If you push 5 we’ll be stopping at every floor.” “How ‘bout them Redskins?” “That food smells great.” “Have a nice day.”

Do you know what an ‘elevator operator’ is? Elevators were not always automatic. There was a person in each elevator who was paid to operate the complex controls: Up, Stop, Down, Open, Close. You had to tell him what floor you wanted and (gasp!) he had to remember which floors to stop on.

Do you remember any specific elevators? I do. Three, in fact: the observation deck elevator in the Sears Tower in Chicago, which goes straight to the 103rd floor, the elevator in Chicago’s Hancock Building that goes non-stop to the bar on the 95th floor and the elevators in the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, which ride along vertical tracks on the exterior of the building.

My favorite perspective on elevators was inspired by the movie “Being There.” Peter Sellers plays Chance the gardener, who has never been out of the house where he grew up. He is now in his 60s and his entire knowledge of the outside world has come from watching television. His employer dies and the movie takes you through his various discoveries as he leaves the house and sees the real world in person for the first time. One of my favorite scenes is his first time in an elevator. From that perspective, an elevator is a small room. He even asks “what is this room?”

Think about it … you walk into it from one room, maybe a lobby, and the door closes behind you. If it is in an old elevator you might even sit on a bench. Nothing happens in that room except maybe a conversation with someone else who is in the elevator with you. A minute later the door opens again and you walk out but now you are a different room than the one where you started. How did that happen?

Ding! Six. My floor. Great chatting with you. Have a nice day.

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