by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter, 7/1997

Not one of my best for sure; and actually a variation and redress of a paper I wrote in college for a creative writing course. It’s a sort of amalgam of bad elevator experiences. A shot at humor that in retrospect wasn’t too great.  Apologies in advance!

Few things in life are as terrifying as riding in an elevator. This terror has nothing to do with the fact that an elevator is little more than a flimsy metal box, precariously suspended dozens of stories above the floor of a dark and foreboding shaft by thin wire cables. No, I’m talking about something far, far scarier about elevators:

Elevator conversation.

Take intelligent, normal people, put them together into an elevator, and watch the conversation grind to a halt like an engine with no oil. What remains is always devoted to discussions about weather.

I remember one such experience a few years ago. I was at my old job, and it was around 7:30 on a frigid winter morning. As I stepped into the elevator, I barely noticed the gentleman who boarded the car with me. Half asleep, I pressed the “5” button,” and noticed that he reached over and also pressed “5.”

Perhaps I hadn’t pressed the button in the correct manner, or maybe he also wanted to be the one to press the button—I’ll never know.

The doors closed, and I lamented the fact that I’d stayed up until 2AM watching music videos. (Note: This was many years ago, when M-TV really did play music videos. You young folks watching M-TV’s “Beavis & Butthead,” and “Real World” these days might not believe me, but it’s true. Ask your parents: M-TV stands for “Music Television.” Honest.)

Anyway, I began thinking about the icy cold can of Coca-Cola (It’s not just for breakfast anymore!) that awaited me in the vending machine upstairs, along with its blessed infusion of life-giving caffeine that would restore me to some semblance of consciousness, when the gentleman cleared his throat.

“Oh, no,” I thought to myself, “he’s going to talk about the weather.”

“Sure is cold today,” the man began,

It wasn’t that I was feeling unfriendly; I just wasn’t at all awake and really had no desire to take part in a discussion of the incredibly obvious weather conditions outside.

“Uh, huh,” I said automatically. “But not as cold as yesterday.” I hoped that would satisfy him as I scanned the elevator inspection certificate again: “RATE OF TRAVEL 100 FEET PER MINUTE. IN CASE OF ACCIDENT NOTIFY THIS DEPARTMENT AT ONCE.”

He droned on, “Me, I like it hot. I don’t think summer will ever get here.”

The doors parted again, and two more people got on. One pressed “3,” and one pressed “4.” “Local,” I thought to myself. “C’mon, say it: Local.”

“Looks like we got a ‘local,’ ” the man said on cue. “Good morning, Ed.”

“Bill, good morning!” the newcomer said with altogether too much cheer for this ungodly hour.

“Well,” I thought, “at least he and his chipper friend will have something else to talk about besides the weather.”

“Cold this morning, huh?” Ed began. I didn’t know Ed, but I hated him already.

Bill continued, “Yes, we were just talking about that,” he said, gesturing toward me, his new best elevator buddy. “I didn’t think my car would ever start this morning.”

“Oh, me too,” Ed nodded. “And that rain Saturday night… Well, it just kept coming down and down. I was ready to build an ark!”

“Fine Ed…” I thought, “you and Noah take Bill with you, okay?”

As the doors to “3” opened, the other passenger left and Ed continued, “Well, at least it wasn’t snow.”

“That’s the good thing about rain, you don’t have to shovel it.”

Didn’t these guys have anything else to talk about?! At this point, I happened to notice that elevator inspection certificate had expired. I imagined that the elevator would break down and I’d be stuck with these guys for hours. I could well imagine how it would go:

Bill: “Well, we’re still not moving.”

Ed: “Yes, looks like we’re still stuck here.”

Bill: “Not moving at all… If only it wasn’t so hot.”

Ed: “It is hot, isn’t it?”

Bill: “It is. Me, I like it cold. How about that rain Saturday?”

But the elevator continued its unbelievably slow ascent, finally stopping at “4” as Ed stepped out. Soon, Bill and I were on our way to the 5th floor. Bill, of course, was still determined to continue our conversation. “Can’t wait until spring,” he said. “It’ll be good to have the good weather back.”

“Uh huh,” I replied again, thinking, “RATE OF TRAVEL 100 FEET PER YEAR. Couldn’t they stock this stupid box with magazines or something?”

The doors finally opened on our floor, and I sprinted forward like a racehorse our of the gate. That day, I learned that avoidance of elevator conversation will wake you up much faster than caffeine. I also vowed to start taking the stairs more often, except when it’s too hot outside. It has been hot lately, hasn’t it? But not as hot as last week.

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