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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Encounters of the Elevator Kind

Is there such a thing as elevator etiquette?  I mean, this isn’t the kind of thing I’ve ever seen in an Emily Post guide or mentioned by Miss Manners (although, I might have missed that installation), but having spent a LOT of time on elevators recently, I’ve think that somebody should address the subject.

 

While the average person probably spends very little time in elevators, I have managed to collect elevator experiences by the handfuls. My son is autistic which means he is a person of specialized interests, which for some people means Star Trek/Wars, anime characters or perhaps trains – his happens to be elevators: Otis, to be specific (but we’ll ride the others, we don't discriminate).  In April, my daughter had a ROCKIN’ trip to Hawaii for her high school choir tour and I thought how sad it was that my son had no incredible trip like that of his own.  So, I created Elevator Tour 2009 and we took two days to do nothing but ride Las Vegas elevators from 9am to 5pm each day (I have my limits – 5pm daily was a very strict cut-off time).

 

After 16 hours of non-stop elevator visits less than six months ago (not just guest elevators, service elevators, too) and three to four hours a day this weekend, I have a thing or two I’ve noticed about elevator usage, especially in the town of Lost Wages.

 

As far as I can tell, there are a handful of elevator personality styles – those that take up as much of the center of the small enclosed space as they can, those that curl up in the corners and my personal non-favorite, the ones that hover near the button panel, making it awkward to find and press your floor before the doors close and you miss your opportunity (forcing you to ride higher or lower than you originally anticipated).

 

In addition to the real estate choices made on an elevator, are the social and non-social types of behavior.  Some folks get on an elevator as though it’s a party-in-progress and they’ve missed crucial, much-needed bonding time.  They cram in as much catch-up conversation as time will allow.  “Where you going/from/been?”  Others avoid eye-contact at all costs and their uncomfortable body language insists that you leave them be.

 

There are those that are hard not to talk to, what with the large, mysterious cargo wthey carry on with them.  In our vertical travels, we’ve seen large multi-colored stuffed animals, specialty racing bicycles in molded cases and crematorium urns with relatives on their way to final resting places (explaining LIFE to my son is hard enough, imagine the convoluted dialogue that comes up trying to explain Dusty Dead Guy in a Box).

 

Having a child who has no filter when it comes to the nuances of interactions with strangers, elevators are a remarkable Petri dish to develop skills in.  Closed spaces, limited ventilation and no way out (until your floor is announced by the blessed overhead beep) open up many doors you weren’t counting on.  My son has lectured on the dangers of smoking to those that smell of nicotine and the inappropriate use of blue language to those who curse (actually I’m making him sound unusually polite when his exact words were “Hey, mister!  Watch your mouth!”  Later I explained that “Please watch your language” would be much better alternative if he wanted to keep his teeth.)

 

The microcosm of human interaction in small enclosed spaces is fascinating to me.  The body language, behavior and repartee are these tiny snapshots of a person and who they might be in the world at large.  It's my opinion that airplane banter often brings out the fake side of people (nervous stories told to the stranger sharing an armrest), but elevators don’t give people time to think and plan what they’re going to do or say – it’s more of an honest picture of human nature.

 

As a storyteller at heart, I enjoy the afternoons spent riding elevators with my son.  Each new encounter brings another character study into view.  My mind wanders with thoughts of where people have been, where they’re going and what they’ve seen.  Is the man wearing the jogging suit with dress shoes on his way to a wedding in a few days and needs to break his fancy dancing shoes in?  Does the 80 year old woman with the hot pink streak in her hair have a teenage granddaughter whose music she enjoys?  Why is guy decked out head to toe in Nike wearing 20 year old Adidas?  Aw, sweet mysteries of life, I adore you.

 

You also never know who you might meet in the small enclosed space in each building you visit.  Once, I had the thrill of a lifetime, riding with Gregory Peck whose son had orthopedic surgery in the same facility where my husband had his knee replacement surgery.  What a glorious four minutes I had discussing bones and joints with a towering silver screen legend!

 

The next time you’re in an elevator, take a moment to make eye contact or small talk with your fellow passengers.  You may be surprised at what you discover about them or maybe even yourself on the way to or from the parking level.  Think of it as a mini study in anthropology.  After all, humanity is all in the details, isn’t it?

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