Last week at lunch a friend told me a horrific story about an elevator accident that happened in New York City. There was a man alone in the elevator, or a woman maybe, or there were a lot of people. Already we’re getting to the problem, which is that I’ve forgotten most of the details.
But now that I’m in New York City I can’t shake the feeling I had when I heard this story, and I thought going over the details again might help with closure. So I googled “elevator accident New York City.”
Never google “elevator accident New York City” when you’re in New York City.
I’ve been googling a lot of things lately, most of them elevator-related. I also googled the population of New York City, it's 8 million. 8 million people is so many people, traveling in so many elevators, and there are just bound to be so many accidents. There are accidents in New York City elevators almost every day, it seems like. You will never reach the end of the list of recent elevator accidents, it’s just a numbers problem.
But I’m a number too this week, and there are elevators everywhere, waiting to make me a statistic.
In my imagination the elevator accident is usually unnervingly fast. I’m speared by some sort of metal beam that takes me before I even have time to scream.
But another thing to think about is a slow breakdown, where I’m trapped in the elevator with other people for minutes, hours, or days. That’s what I think every time a stranger gets on the elevator with me.
It’s me and them now, I think, this is who I spend my last minutes with.
A woman in an enormous jacket steps on, she’s very stylish and she mouths a silent greeting, so silent that I wonder if maybe English isn’t her first language, and she doesn’t feel like revealing her accent to strangers.
Well we’ll find out soon enough, I think, soon this elevator car will fall 40 floors and we’ll both be saying a whole lot.
I like looking at strangers’ faces in elevators because they rarely share my look of panic. It’s calming to see people who blindly assume they’re going to arrive at the floor they’ve selected on the metal wall next to us.
When I’m alone I worry most. Yesterday morning, alone in an elevator, I selected 12, and the display went from L, to 2, to 3, to 4, to CE. Are you as freaked out as I was? CE, what does that mean? CE is the button you hit on a calculator when you want to undo something.
There was no one there to smile at me so I started a panicked monologue with the elevator display. We were still moving, but I didn't like the vibe I was getting. I thought of all the times in high school I’d recklessly cleared away a number with a thoughtless tap of the CE button.
“NOT CE!” I whispered loudly to the display. “THE ANSWER IS 12. 12.”
“CE.” the display kept saying, without ever pausing to take a breath. That was an elevator trip that really would have benefitted from a calm strange face to share it with.
What does CE stand for in an elevator? Do most elevators claim people with strangers or alone? Are there cameras in elevators, maybe on the ceiling? I’ve never even looked. I’m trying to stop thinking about it, at least for a while. I’ll start thinking about it again when I’m not in New York City.