I like elevators.

There’s a rickety elevator at my mom’s work named Otis. It’s written in all CAPS on the floor, right by the gap between elevator and hallway. You can’t avoid seeing it every time you step out because it’s right by that gap, and if you don’t pay attention you’ll drop your keys into the dark recesses of the building’s soul. A bit on the left is a break in the linoleum where a rushed biologist spilled hydrosulfuric acid or a friendly campus squirrel found the dark side. By the buttons there’s the usual don’t-ride-elevators-in-a-flaming-building sign, but some scientist drew on it.

The gap between elevator and The Great Abyss. Also, Otis.

Scientists are creative.

Back at my parents’ lab in Chicago there was a similar sign with a similar drawing. (Scientists have quirks, and apparently so do their graffiti.) We lived across the street in a twelve-story apartment building with four elevators—two in my building, two in its Siamese twin enantiomer brother (attached via bridge). My friends and I would ride the elevators from floor to floor, sometimes hitting every button, always jumping (Some people pay $4950 and 5% tax for zero gravity; we got it for free.). Sometimes we’d cross the bridge to the other elevators and ride those. Last October my Chicago friends took me to a tall glass building with a tall glass elevator, and we rode it to the 50-something-th floor and back, and again and again. It was so shiny, the ride so smooth. That elevator is every technological advancement; it is the beauty of humanity’s (seemingly) unstoppable might.

Elevators have so much history, so much life (and I don’t mean bacteria). They see anything and everyone (except in case of fire or dieting) that enters the building, and when I’m waiting for my floor I like to think about who else stood here and shared my 20-something seconds of contemplation. So many lives intersect on elevators. But soon it will be gone, or at least the dented fake-wood walls will be replaced. While I’m excited for blue walls and air conditioning, I think campus renovations detract from the personality of the place. (Still, I like air conditioning.)

There’s another elevator even more memorable than Otis. I don’t remember its name, but he lives in the stacks of our campus library. To get in you have to open a heavy door and then a grate. It moves a little too fast and it’s a little too dim for comfort, and as you pass floors their names in faded paint rush past the grate.

The only other elevator I’ve ever known that had a grate was in Barcelona last spring. We lived in an apartment building that was just tall enough to make carrying groceries up the steep, spiraling stairs an unhappy thought, and there was one elevator. The grate on this one was a dull bronze color, and the inside was lined with mirrors. It didn’t go too fast like the one on campus. Actually, it moved a little too slow, and if someone forgot to close the grate it didn’t move at all.

I’ll write a novel, someday, with an old grated elevator named Totis (because my dad says I’d get sued for naming him Otis). Totis will be a stubborn old man with his own personality, and somehow the story will center on the crack in his linoleum.


~ by science cow on September 19, 2009.

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