Confused. Disoriented. Panic-stricken, he forces the door open only to face a concrete wall obstructing his only way out. 34-year-old Nicholas White is essentially left for dead with no water, food or means of communication. Cut off from the rest of the world, a pack of Rolaids is his only sustenance for the next 41 hours. Where is Nicholas White? In between floors of his Manhattan office building: stuck on an elevator.
Elevators [el-uh-vey-ters]: noun—compact 4.5-by-6 foot microcosms. Statistics show that during elevator interruptions from outside life, fiascos such as White’s happen rarely in the U.S. About 30 elevator fatalities and 17,100 elevator-related injuries occur each year. In addition to these terrifying possibilities, personal interactions within elevators are almost always painfully awkward. Is it possible that, contrary to popular perception, elevator interactions can be socially nonabrasive?
Media portrayals of elevator run-ins are almost always represented in a negative, albeit usually humorous light. From uncomfortable conversations with strangers to hostile confrontations, and let’s not forget awkward hook-ups, the producers of Spiderman 2, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Grey’s Anatomy have contributed to the negative image of elevators. When Cory Matthews from Boy Meets World finds himself at a crossroads in life, his devastating nightmares center around the elevator outside his college dorm room. Portraying his confused emotional state by depicting dream-Cory shoving his friends and family down an elevator shaft is terrifying, to say the least.
Additionally, the American audience has repeatedly been shown scenes of women giving birth in defective elevators. It’s surprising we haven’t mandated disclaimers warning the public of the imminent dangers we face by stepping foot into these shady, unpredictable contraptions. Although the fear of elevators remains unnamed, those people constantly in frantic search for a flight of stairs cannot be ignored. For them, the “In case of fire, use stairs” sign might as well read, “To prolong life, use stairs.”
As if the risks of death and catastrophic medical emergencies are not enough to worry about, we must also adhere to a strict set of behavioral guidelines while immersed in the elevator experience. Melissa Dylan, a freelance writer hailing from Hawaii, has invented “The Ten Commandments of Elevator Manners.” Included are stipulations such as “thou shalt not fart,” “thou shall wait for empty carriage if thou is sick” and “thou shalt not carry on personal conversations, be they person-to-person or via cellular phone.”
Dylan’s commandments may have varying effects depending on the emotional state of a passenger. The guidelines may appease a germaphobic passenger. They may also serve to pacify a hyperactive elevator-goer or one who doesn’t function well in situations lacking rules or structure. However, throw these laws in the face of an already apprehensive rider and one can imagine the social chaos that may arise. We can only hope that passengers such as these have not taken to heart Cory Matthews’ subconscious response to social pressures.
While elevator rides may not be for the faint of heart, research has shown they, in fact, can be enjoyable experiences. On Ithaca College’s campus, students can be seen taking elevators and surviving to tell interesting tales. Freshman Kelsey Logan tells of an entertaining interaction she had while waiting for the elevator to arrive in Whalen. Logan, unaware of the college employee lurking in the shadows, attempted to redistribute a “wet floor” sign. After being immediately reprimanded for her intentions, she then endured a ride with said employee.
“It was the funniest and most awkward situation I’ve ever been in!” Logan said.
Sophomores Melissa and Michelle Montgomery were accompanying Logan on her adventure.
“I almost peed my pants!” Melissa said. Logan refers to Michelle as having been “facing the wall, shaking in a fit of laughter.”
Clearly the potential for disaster, emotional distress and even immense entertainment are present in any elevator experience. An uninhibited conversation may turn suddenly awkward when two people step out of a social gathering and into an elevator. Flirtatious gestures may turn into passionate physical contact. Likewise, a minor disagreement might transform into hostile confrontation.
There is no telling what will happen when we become socially isolated within the confines of such a microcosm. Thus, whether you abide by “The Ten Commandments of Elevator Manners” or take a more rebellious approach to elevator interactions, always keep in mind the looming consequences of temporarily disappearing from the world into a 4.5-by-6 foot transportation box.
Giana Porpiglia is a sophomore writing major. She’s an elevator survival expert and knows how to deliver babies in enclosed spaces. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.