Ever since one of the most hated litigators on TV, Rosalind Shays, plummeted to her death down an elevator shaft on "L.A. Law," I've been a little leery of those big boxes. The thought of tumbling down into the depths of darkness totally freaks me out, so I pause each time the doors open and close just to make sure something, besides the darkness, is waiting for me.
In the two years since I've relocated from suburb to city and went from single-dwelling homeownership to apartment dwelling, I have made my peace with the elevator. I now think of it more as a "meeting place." These days, I consider it to be almost another mode of travel. And considering I have a dog who has to go out much more often than I would care to on my own, it has become my most frequent mode of travel.
In our building, the elevator is the great unifier -- bringing people who ordinarily would not be brought together... together. It's a perfect place for neighbors to convene within a snippet of time without them feeling besieged by the pressure of having to dig deep for something earth-shattering or profound to say. The trip from top to bottom is just long enough for a droll or witty comment -- and I am much better with short and witty than long and witty.
The paradox that surrounds high-rise apartment living is that in spite of having so many people around you, it is quite a solitary endeavor -- highly impersonal. And yet, I have found that the few minutes spent in the elevator, the random eye contact, the head nod,
the "good morning,"
the "have a nice day,"
the "great shoes,"
"I love your purse,"
are sometimes just enough to make a difference in my day. Living in a house -- getting into your car and heading out through the garage... alone, seems to me to be far more a picture of isolation.
I am never alone on the my vertical trips through the building. I can see my neighbors and learn some things about what goes on behind the doors below me (I live on the top floor) and around me. I know what they do in the morning, in the afternoon and on weekends. Some wear work clothes like suits and ties, others are more casual. (I love seeing what the Parisians are wearing with each passing season, however, they do not have an affinity for clunky snow boots.) Some wear workout clothes and don't go to work at all... or like me, they work from home.
I know the family from Argentina on the third floor has boys who take karate, and the guy on the fifth has his parents visiting from Colorado. The two guys on the third (one's a pilot) have adopted twins who went to visit Grandma last month. We know each other's pets, and we know which pets are better off waiting for another elevator.
Suitcases usually mean someone's going on vacation and when the delivery man from the Chinese restaurant across the street has apartment numbers scrawled on his bags, we know which neighbors are not cooking tonight and what they're eating for dinner. My building is really a microcosm of a town... albeit an international one, and quite often I get a crash course in foreign language by the time I get to the lobby: French, Spanish, Chinese, German. It's a veritable world tour packed into a minute.
Sometimes, one minute is more than enough time spent with these people -- it's an appetizer, not a dinner -- and that's fine with me. That's the beauty of the entire system: You can be as shallow and uncommitted as you like, and no one faults you for it. (And then there's a good chance that you might meet a wonderful friend for life there as well.) I know the possibility of getting stuck in the elevator also. I take great comfort in the fact that someone has filled out the Inspection Form that often hangs in the car, and I always check the date of the last inspection. (Yes, some old habits die hard.)
Every so often, there's a story in the paper about a group of random people who've been stuck in an elevator. It sounds quaint, the stuff of which human interest stories are made. I've even seen quite a few films where the trapped individuals bond and become great pals, or even better, romantic couples. I can appreciate that, but I would rather it not happen to me. I don't really feel the need to regale my friends with tales of sharing a pastrami sandwich or splitting one Hershey's Kiss amongst five strangers. And although we live very close to a major hospital and have many MDs living in the building, witnessing a stranger's childbirth is not on my bucket list either, although that would make for a good story. (It just so happens that a baby named, what else, but "Ella," will have just such a very cute story to share with her children many years from now.)
But for me, and my neighbors, a short elevator ride with each other is quite sufficient. There are building-sponsored barbecues and get-togethers we can attend where we can make more than light chitchat -- if we so choose. Right now, I'm happy to enjoy the little slices of life I witness... the "ups and downs" you might say, of life in the big city.
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