Boycotting Elevators?

This entry will be more thinking aloud than making a declaration of intent, or a promise.   Also, my thoughts about boycotting elevators have nothing to do with any phobia or traumatic experiences related to them.

Nor have I committed to a masochistic “no pain, no gain” exercise regimen.  One of the purposes is to get in better shape, and to burn calories, but I am not one of those pain and adrenaline junkies whose workouts and exercise routines cause their bodies to sooner or later (often sooner) shut down from sheer overload.

Earlier in the blog, I posted about my adventure walking to the top floor of the William Green Building, the building where I spent up to 40 hours per week in service to the people of the Buckeye State.  I work on the 10th floor, and a co-worker (who religiously works out in the building’s gym every lunch period) and I made the trip all the way to the 31st floor.  I had to take a brief break (less than a minute) on one of the landings, because I was out of breath, but we did manage to touch the door on the 31st floor.  (The building has 30 floors, with the very top floor housing the air conditioning, ventilation, and electrical gear.  The executive offices of the Industrial Commission are on the 30th floor, an area we employees alternately call “Thirty” or “the Vatican.”)

I have not repeated this feat since then, and doing so has been on my “to-do” list for some time.  Whenever I bring up the suggestion to this co-worker, he tells me we will do it, but to wait until he has called to have paramedics and an ambulance ready.  (Since the knowledge of my aneurysm came to light, this has not been 100% a jest.)

My contemplated abstinence from elevators is health-related.  I have never been the type to exercise in a gym or a health club setting.  Occasionally, I flirt with the idea of buying a treadmill, but I know I lack the self-discipline to maintain any type of program on it.  (A woman I dated strongly advised against it, because her treadmill ended up being the most expensive clothes rack she ever owned.)  Also, the idea of exerting myself to a level of pain while going absolutely nowhere is way too symbolic of my own life.

This is not the first time I’ve steered clear of elevators.  When I began fall quarter 1986 at Ohio University, I occupied a fourth-floor single in Cady Hall on New South Green (the cluster of dormitories that look like brick renditions of the little houses you put on Monopoly properties).  My boycott of elevators for anything less than five flights began the day I moved in, and it assumed shades of the ridiculous.  I would load my belongings onto the elevator, push the button for “4”, and then run up the stairs to meet it.  This I repeated several times.

I do not think anybody was by the elevator on the fourth floor of Cady Hall when I proudly spent $10 at Alden Library’s discard sale, coming away with a complete set of the 1947 edition of the Encyclopædia Brittanica.  The staff at the library was kind enough to lend me a library cart to get this set of books down the hill to New South, and I daresay I burned some calories keeping a rein on the cart to prevent it from rolling all the way down the hill.  True to form, I put the two big boxes of books into the elevator, pressed the button for “4,” and trudged upstairs.

Growing up in Marietta, I did not encounter elevators daily.  Oddly enough, Americans travel over 1.25 billion miles in elevators per year, but in Marietta there were few buildings tall enough to justify having one, so there were times when I would loiter in buildings for the express purpose of riding up and down a few times.

The memorable elevators in Marietta include the one in the Dime Bank Building (pictured below) at Second and Putnam Sts., which, with eight stories, had the honor of being Marietta’s tallest building.  The elevator was memorable because it was a cage elevator, and because it required an operator.


I had a friend who delivered The Marietta Times in this building, so, when I tagged along, I had a legitimate reason to be in there, and to ride the building, since he had customers on almost every floor.  The first time or two, it was a little disquieting to see the operator let us in and slide the metal accordion door shut with a sound that reminded me of a closing prison cell door, based on what I had seen on TV.  However, I was fascinated as I stood behind that gate and watched the floors’ external doors go by as we went higher.  The operator did not push buttons; there was a device that resembled a ship’s telegraph, and he threw the lever to make the car move.

“My brother put his toe in there once when the elevator was moving,” my friend told the elderly man who was running the elevator one day.

“He’s lucky he didn’t break his foot,” I said.

The operator cackled.  “He’s lucky he didn’t get his leg torn off.”

I have no pretensions about my skills as a mechanic or an engineer, but I remember standing mesmerized when we were at the top of the building, looking down through the cage doors at the cables, the huge pulley at the top, and the even larger counterweight which moved up and down the wall.  I am sure this equipment was original equipment, there since the building opened in 1908.

One of the perks of being in the Audio-Visual Club at Marietta High School was that it provided a legitimate reason to ride the school’s elevator.  The building was four stories, and we needed the elevator to move projectors, TVs, and turntables from their berth in the library to the various classrooms where teachers had requested them.  The elevator worked with a key, and the school powers that be only distributed keys to teachers and to students who were on crutches, in wheelchairs, or otherwise disabled.  (The key was something of a joke–I learned early on that I could activate the elevator by using the small buckle on my watchband.)

The only elevator that I can say genuinely made me uncomfortable was the one in the late Charminel Tower, a decrepit 12-story apartment building that, until it was demolished in the late ’90s, stood near Grant Medical Center and the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  (As I understand it, the name came from the builder’s family: His name was Charles, his wife’s name was Minnie, and their daughter’s name was Eleanor.)  In the summer of 1986, a friend lived there–partly because it was the only apartment he could find on short notice after his girlfriend threw him out, and partly because of the allure of living in a flophouse with the excitement of Grant Hospital’s helipad being just outside his window.

This was another human-operated elevator.  The human was an immense man who lived in a small room in the building’s lobby, which always smelled like dead cigars and malt liquor.  He kept his room wide open, so we could see his portable black and white TV, his cot, and the cable spool he used for a table.  The elevator made noises I have never heard outside The Addams Family, and swayed from side to side (I heard it bump the walls of the shaft more than once) at much greater speed than it did up and down.

I was happy to take the narrow stairs up to my friend’s apartment, but that was not a viable option for many of the residents.  Quite a few of them were elderly pensioners, not in the best of health, and I felt for the frail old men I would see climbing those steps, dragging oxygen tanks behind them.  The fire department told the owner many times that the stairways were far too narrow for them to be able to carry a stretcher downstairs.

Freight elevators intrigued me during the time that I worked at the main post office in Cincinnati.  These were large enough to accommodate a small Toyota, and several times a night I would ride them while bringing loads of mail from one floor to another.  When I am working my every-semester gig at the Columbus State bookstore, The Discovery Exchange (the DX), one of my favorite projects is shelving books that students have returned for buyback.  The carts are often quite heavy, and the building’s security officer told me that taking them up on the passenger elevator was a definite no-no.

I manage to convince at least one newbie per semester who rides this elevator for the first time that they had dodged a bullet, and congratulate them that, at least that time, they had ended their trip on the elevator alive.

The William Green Building’s elevator system is called Destination Dispatch.  Instead of pushing a button to call one, you go to a keypad and push the number on the screen for the floor you want.  For floors 1-12, the elevators are marked A through H, and the keypad will assign you an elevator that will go straight to your floor.  (Floors 14-30’s elevators are labelled I through P.  The 13th floor houses much of the air conditioning and climate control apparatus.  There are no offices there, a concession to the superstitious.)

I realized that I had no fear of elevators when I became a floor warden, responsible for getting the co-workers in my section to safety in the event of an emergency or disaster.  During our training, the subject of what to do if stuck in the elevator arose.

I didn’t say it aloud, but my thought was that I would stretch out on its floor and take a nap.  I’d set the alarm on my phone for 5 p.m. (the end of my workday), and only call for help if I needed to go to the bathroom.  If I happened to have a book with me, I might call if I finished the book before anyone noticed the elevator was stuck.

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