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Charlie Hatton
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I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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Love/Hate in an Elevator

At the office where I work, the powers that be have seen fit to break our group into two halves. All of us — when there were precious fewer of us, back in the day — once sat in the same area, on a renovated floor of a nice professional building. I’ll call this spot ‘the Tower’, just to give it a name.

But we were cramped for space, and growing over time, so something had to be done. We couldn’t get more space in the Tower; lord knows we’re not nearly that important. And space was at a premium on the other floors of that building, as well. So when we split, a few intrepid souls were sent to the older, less-than-renovated ‘functional’ building next door to stake a claim. I should give this spot a name, to distinguish it from the first. Let’s go with ‘the Outhouse’, just off the top of my head.

(If you prefer ‘Ghetto Shack’ or ‘Dung Hovel’, that’s fine, too. Or ‘Outhouse’ will do. I think we’re understanding each other here.)

So a few of us employees — banishees? shunees? — relocated to the Outhouse, and settled into our various niches. One guy had a wall erected, to make his ‘office’ seem less like an open space and more like… I don’t know. A phone booth? A toll island? Something.

A few of us huddle in a cave-like room, where the thermostat control on the wall is merely a ‘suggestion’ to the air conditioning system, which either ignores us for days on end or blasts waves of loud frigid air at us like we were walking, talking bags of frozen Birdseye peas. Or maybe pints of Cherry Garcia that it’s trying to keep stiff until the weekend.

None of this is especially germane to the current story — bitching is just oodles of fun, is all! — except to say this: every aspect of the two buildings plays a part in the glaring dichotomy between the Tower and the Outhouse. And that very much includes an aspect we deal with every day — the elevators.

Now, I’m not going to claim that one set of elevators — four in each building — is more efficient than the others. Both are a pain to ride during busy times, none are ever on the floor you want going the direction you want, and they’re all freight-friendly ‘vators, so oversized loads, odd smells and maintenance equipment are the order of the day, in both buildings.

That said, there are tremendous differences.

Take the Outhouse elevators, for instance. Given the setting, you might expect these people movers to be lacking in frills, cold utilitarian behemoths that work most of the time in most ways if you’re lucky, and point you toward the stairwell when you’re not. That’s what you might expect.

“They’re sparse on the inside, with the original keypad from 1938 or whenever the hell they were first installed — I’m pretty sure the ‘In Case of Fire’ message directs you to a telegraph operator who’ll know what to do with your Morse Code SOS signal.”

If you wanted to be spot-on dead right, that is. Because that’s exactly the deal with these elevators. The doors rattle home when one enters, never seeming quite to fit together, and then make a mildly alarming ‘opening a sardine can’ noise when the car arrives. They’re sparse on the inside, with the original keypad from 1938 or whenever the hell they were first installed — I’m pretty sure the ‘In Case of Fire’ message directs you to a telegraph operator who’ll know what to do with your Morse Code SOS signal.

And naturally, these elevators don’t work quite the way you’d really want them to. Sure, they go up and down, and mostly at the expected times and speeds, but there’s more to an elevator than that. Case in point — the indicator lights, telling would-be passengers which way the car is headed, and which car in the bank of four is coming. On the main floor, three of the four ‘up’ lights work, and on my floor, only three of the four ‘down’ lights are in operation. And its not the same light out on both floors. So every elevator trip is an adventure in positioning, deduction and memory retention, to infer which car is coming, going which way, depending on what you see, what you don’t see, and where you do or don’t see it.

Sometimes I just want to take a ride to the goddamned soda machine. I don’t need a frigging cognitive skills Mensa quiz every stupid time I run out of Pepsi.

Worse, remember that these are old elevators, built back when people were a lot quicker, apparently, because the reinforced blast doors on these things stay open for approximately nineteen milliseconds between trips. So if you’re still calculating the speed at which Car 4 will pass Car 2 if the red light didn’t come on and one left Omaha at nine o’clock going two-thirds the square root of the other’s rate of travel, then it’s time for you to PRESS THE EFFING CALL BUTTON AGAIN BECAUSE THE ELEVATOR LEFT WITHOUT YOU.

(Or crushed you in its steely maw, should you be (un)fortunate enough to get as far as the threshold. What, safety releases for the doors? How precious! No, we’d never build such a thing. Survival of the fittest. And best of luck to you, sparky.)

On the other hand, there are the Tower elevators — superior in nearly every regard. They’re bigger, they’re faster, more modern, better sensored, and with doors that cede the right of way before crushing fragile limbs or bones. But that’s not the best thing about these elevators. No, the best part is that these elevators are smart. Wicked smart — even smarter than the people who built the building. And I can prove it.

First, it’s important to know that these elevators can talk. Because why wouldn’t they, right? In the next upgrade, these fancy-building elevators will probably pour you coffee on the way up to the office, and give you a back massage on the way down. Vibrating walls for comfort. Happy endings after business hours. The whole ball of wax.

For the moment — talking. Specifically, the elevators will announce what floor is coming up at the next stop. Very handy, for the blind crowd, as well as easily-distracted riders or short folks in the back who can’t see the display panel. It’s a nice touch.

And the building they’re nestled into is fifteen floors tall. Our other half of the group actually works on the fourteenth floor of the Tower. Only it’s not called the fourteenth floor. Because whoever put the building together decided to ‘skip’ the unlucky thirteenth floor.

Mind you, this is a hospital building. The finest minds modern medicine can muster, and they’re eschewing the thirteenth floor because it’s ‘bad juju’. I always wondered — if you show up for a physical, do they throw salt over your shoulder and consult a Magic 8-Ball for a diagnosis? ‘Outlook Chlamydia-y‘? Sheesh.

I’ve always scoffed at this particular choice — but ever since they made these elevators talk a few years ago, it turns out they agree with me. The female voice they use is very confident and matter-of-fact in announcing the lower floors:

Floor Three.

Floor Six.

Floor Eight.

But when you get above twelve, that same voice turns questioning — almost incredulous:

Floor Four-teen?

Floor Fif-teen?

It’s as though it knows. Oh, it’ll go along with your little ‘naming scheme’ game, but don’t think you superstitious chumps have pulled one over on the almighty elevator. It’s got its eye on you, mister. Put down the 8-Ball and do some actual medicine, there, bub. That stethoscope ain’t gonna listen to itself.

So, that’s the story of the elevators. And of the Tower and the Outhouse, and just how different the two can be. I for one miss the Tower. Not for the working there, of course. Crying under one desk is the same as any other. But the ride getting up there was sweet, indeed. As elevators go, a guy could do a lot worse.

And does. Every. Fricking. Day. *sigh*

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