Full Car: My daily meetings with the bosses took me to Mahogany Row on the 34th floor where the elite sat in their offices guarded by their gray-haired watchdogs. I discovered then that I was spending more time traveling vertically than horizontally. This introduced me to elevator situations.
I was elevating up from the lobby one morning when a man rushed toward the closing doors. The only other occupant in my car, a vice president standing near the control panel, vainly punched the button to hold the doors as they closed silently. Shock and embarrassment crossed his face. Then I saw his finger had been nowhere near the hold button. “Sorry about that,” he told me, staring at the ceiling.
Stinky Car: I had a proofreader who came to my office monthly. Malcolm was one of the most knowledgeable guys in the business, so good he could tell you whether a period was in roman or italic. His brother was our corporate counsel and both had graduated Yale, but there the similarities ended. Malcolm was about five-feet three inches tall, his clothes were tattered, he smoked Gauloises and he exuded an odor that triggered the gag reflex. At some point, Malcolm was banned from the bank of elevators. He suffered the ignominy of being ordered by the building guards to take the freight elevator. He wouldn’t accept the insult, and after proofing our annual report he announced proudly he could no longer accept us as his client. His career lurched downhill because of an elevator.
I Spy: I was chatting about elevators with Susan, my secretary. “These rent-a-cops on Park Avenue can be mean,” I told her, and she answered that they always looked at her and smiled when she passed. I told her she was being self-conscious, and that “They’re busy staring at the monitors to see that no one gets mugged in the elevators.”
“How would they know that?” she asked.
“Cameras. You can’t see them, but every elevator car has a camera.”
Susan’s face went white. “Oh, my Gawd!” she whispered. “When there’s no one in the car I pull up my skirt and straighten my pantyhose!”
Punch Line: One of my favorite amusements was to get on an elevator with a friend. As the car filled up, I’d start a monologue, usually something about a girlfriend and a horrifying episode that had taken place over the weekend. The story would build in intensity and people would stop talking to listen—to eavesdrop!—on my drama. As we neared the lobby, I’d reach the climax with, “…And then she smashed her wineglass on the floor, reached into her handbag and pulled out a pistol. ‘You’ll never say that again,’ she said, and then….” As the doors opened, I’d step out and say, “I’ll tell you later what happened.”
Skyscraper Legends: New York is full of curious tales. Ask me about the Amish guy and the elevator. The colleague who was trapped overnight in an elevator with a Czechoslovakian cleaning woman. Or about why there’s no 13th floors in New York. Or…but this is my floor and I have to get off.