The university this week is as quiet as the required textbook section of the bookstore. Since it is snowing (it does that even in southern New Mexico every now and then) and it is two weeks until school starts, the only people hanging around the university are the staff and the unhappily married. You would think that this would be a great time to get a little ahead in the new semester’s work, but logical thinking is so rare it should be categorized as a superpower.
One of the few people working on campus today was the elevator repairman. Every building on campus with more than one floor has—legally must have-- an elevator. We had an interesting conversation—I must confess that I have long had a fondness for elevators dating from when I worked at the Flagship Hotel and took a short course on emergency elevator maintenance. When the hotel’s insurance company offered a small discount on our premiums if we had someone who worked the night shift qualified to work on the elevators, as the resident manager, I was immediately sent off to class.
I love elevators and loved learning about them. And I learned a few secrets about the kind we had in the Flagship Hotel. Eventually, I took a few of those secrets, and a set of keys, back to the hotel where they turned into a new game for the amusement of a few members of the graveyard shift.
The hotel was seven floors tall and had two elevators. Somewhere about one in the morning, an off duty policeman the hotel employed as security and I would make our way to the seventh floor of the hotel. We stepped out of the elevator, and as soon as the doors shut, I would insert a small round key into the upper left corner of the elevator door. If you look, quite a few elevator doors have this inconspicuous keyhole, particularly on the top, bottom, and middle floors.
When you turn the key, you may slide the outer door of the elevator open. This immediately stops the elevator car—if you time this just right, you may step off onto the top of the car. And if you allow the outer door to slide shut, the elevator car immediately starts moving again with you on top of it. Or in my case, starts moving with my friend and me on top of it. Elevators not in use are programmed to move to prearranged floors. In the case of two elevators, usually the cars will automatically return to the first and middle floors.
As I said, the Flagship Hotel had seven floors, so the elevators naturally parked themselves at the first and fourth floors. As we allowed the doors to shut, the elevator cars immediately began to move to one of these two floors. Riding on the top of an elevator car through a mostly darkened elevator shaft is incredibly dangerous--the type of activity that would only be done by drunken fools. A single misstep and you quite literally can fall to your death. We loved it! It was an intoxicating and wild rush!
The next step was to flip the switch on the control panel on the top of the elevator car. Not every brand of elevator has this, and the later models have a hand held control panel that plugs in, so it is really doubtful that you will find many elevators still equipped with a control panel. This is a pity, since flipping the switch took the elevator off automatic control and put it on manual control. To be specific, the car was controlled by a joystick—you could send the car up and down from where you stood on top of the elevator car simply by moving the joystick up and down.
Elevator cars have multiple speeds depending on the height of the building. If you started off or stopped a car in the highest speed, passengers not suitably braced for the sudden movement would most likely be lying on the bottom of the car. If you were on top of the elevator, you could select any speed you wanted. My friend and I always operated the elevator as if it were stolen and we were making our getaway. In other words, that elevator car moved through the dark shaft like a stabbed rat.
Once the elevator was under manual control, we could manually send the elevator to where the other car was parked awaiting a call. Carefully, one of us could step the four feet over to the other car. This was simple if the other car was parked on the first floor—a little more “stimulating” if the car was parked on the fourth floor. Elevator shafts aren't totally dark, light comes in around the cracks of all the doors on every floor. The elevator cars leak light, too. Still, there are a lot of shadowy dark places in an elevator shaft. Stepping from one car to another is definitely crazy—hell, the other car can start to move just as you make you step across. Don’t try this.
Now, once you have someone on both cars under manual control, you can race them. If either one of you possess a single ‘Y’ chromosome, it is probably mandatory. If you race them to the top floor, remember to squat down a little. The movie Die Hard has it wrong, there is actually a little space at the top of the shaft even if the car is all the way to the top—say about three feet. If you run the car too far up or down the shaft, the electric motor will automatically shut off. If a car traveling upward at top speed stops suddenly, the momentum can actually lift you off your toes for a second. And if you standing on the top of the elevator when this happens.…well, don’t do it. This is stupidly dangerous. Don’t lose your head over the game.
Even if you aren’t afraid of heights, racing elevators in the dark is a little frightening. There is a certain amount of screaming going on. This is especially true if you took your elevator car down to the first floor just as the hotel bar was closing and patiently waited until both cars had passengers before you switched the car over to manual control. Every good race needs fans to cheer and yell. NASCAR would be a lot more exciting if they took the drunken fans out of the stands and spread them evenly among the passenger seats of the race cars.
Actually, now that I think about it, everything I have written above (and quite a bit below) is a lie. I never did this, and this is not the way elevators work and even if they did, it is dangerous and stupid and cruel. And fun.
At this point, you are probably expecting a moral or some point to the story. Something moving, uplifting, and down to earth. Sorry, this is the way my mind wanders when it is between classes and it’s snowing.