I haven’t lived in a city since I was three years old, and even then, it wasn’t very city-like. It was more of an old suburb located within a city. Since then, I’ve lived in various houses in the thick of actual suburbs until finally landing with my wife and dog on an acre of land, surrounded by more land. It’s peppered with trees that are much older than I am and it’s quiet, which is exactly how I prefer it. If I have any regrets at all, it’s that I don’t have more land.
As my wife and I get older, though, we sometimes look around and wonder if this situation will work for us in, say, ten years. Ten years isn’t a very long time, and it goes by faster the older one gets. I began to notice that when I turned forty a score of years ago; I noticed that birthdays were no longer celebrated as singular events but in fives and tens. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make the decades sneak up on a person.
I’ve sometimes thought about moving to a more urban environment just for the convenience of it—not now, but eventually— but Mrs. G. brought up a good point. What about the dog? He’s used to running around outside, and he has more space inside than a dog probably needs, which he enjoys. He wouldn’t understand the practicality of downsizing at all. Then I wonder if I’d really like it if my neighbor was right on top of me. I don’t think I’d want to smell what they’re cooking or listen to their TV shows on a calm summer night, even though a friendly neighbor would be kind of fun.
Still, there are things in cities that fascinate me, tall buildings being the main thing, and elevators specifically. We don’t have a lot of elevators out where I live unless you count grain silos. We have stairs if we need to get to a second floor because that’s usually about it. A three-story building out here would be a landmark, but cities need to build upwards, and this requires elevators, which I still approach with a feeling of simple wonder. One of my recurring dreams even involves an elevator that not only goes up and down but sideways as well. I’ve had this dream so often that it feels real, and I occasionally wonder if I’ve actually been on something like this.
During the 1970s, I had a delivery job that put me in all manner of city elevators, from drive-it-yourself one-person units with a lever that controlled starting and stopping, to freight elevators large enough for a car. I did get stuck between floors in the city library elevator once and had to climb up through the roof panel to the next floor, the same as they do in the movies. There was a hex key that opened the doors manually, and nothing beats the look of surprise on someone’s face when the doors slowly crank open and somebody climbs out of a big empty hole. “This one isn’t working,” I said, as I tied an OUT OF ORDER sign across the gaping maw. People then looked at me with an exasperated sigh as if I broke the elevator, but I suspect that was just their suspicious city ways. I didn’t take it personally.
Every elevator posts the maximum weight capacity on a fancy plaque, but it’s on the inside, and I doubt many people read it. Isn’t it too late at that point anyway? It should be on the outside so people can give it a good study while they’re waiting for their ride. I take these things seriously, though. “Morning everyone. I weigh 175, how much do the rest of you weigh because we’re only allowed 2500 pounds. You … sweatpants guy … you mind catching the next one?” My wife and I went on a helicopter once, and they weighed every passenger and the pilot before we got on. Is that kind of accuracy too much to ask for on an elevator? I know they have emergency brake systems but nobody wants a screaming free fall first thing in the morning.
I’m also not at all perplexed by elevator manners because they should mirror non-elevator manners. Women before men and exit before entering, yet all too often, people will just ram into each other at the elevator threshold as if they’re piloting bumper cars. It’s an elevator, not a post-game celebration at an English futbol stadium. Let people get off and then you can get on.
I also feel that the person who ends up near the control panel has the same level of responsibility as the person who gets the seat in the emergency exit row on an airplane. He has control of the open/close buttons, and it’s up to him to ask new arrivals what floor they want. New people shouldn’t have to shove their way over to push a floor button; Control Panel Guy should simply ask, “what floor?” and the new guy should respond with, “eight, please.” It’s not that difficult.
There are a few other elevator rules that I’ve learned over the years that don’t seem too complicated. If one is waiting in the lobby and the up arrow is already lit up, it doesn’t make the elevator come any faster to stab at the button a million times. In fact, I think elevators are programmed to dawdle between floors if they sense that someone is trying to push the button through the wall.
Once inside, there shouldn’t be any talking with strangers except for a pleasant “good morning” or “thank you” (if somebody showed a courtesy). This isn’t a trans-continental flight. It’s ten, fifteen seconds max. Also, no eating, slurping through straws, cell phone conversations, eye contact, farting or burping. It’s a few seconds. Try to control yourself.
Baby strollers are a touchy subject simply because, in recent years, they have grown to the size of a dune buggy with two, sometimes three kids lashed into them plus a car seat and a diaper bag and quite possibly a changing table and diaper wringer. If you have one of these behemoth child dollies, could you please back it in because having your collection of kids plus you staring backward while everyone else is looking forward is unsettling to the rest of us. Control Panel Guy will make sure you get on and off safely and everybody will make room for you because, let’s be honest, most people don’t want to stand within arm’s length of your gooey children.
A-h-h-h-h-h, maybe a city isn’t for me. I mean, I like visiting them and I like what they have to offer, but only in small doses. Perhaps a village might be more my speed. It’s got all the same conveniences as a city without the tall buildings to block the sun. I also don’t want to become blasé about elevators. I like the idea that I get to ride on one a few times each year, but not if I’m with my wife. We’ve been in hotels where our room was pretty far up, and she always wants to take the stairs. I don’t mind the exercise, but I have stairs at home. If I start in the basement, I’ve hit thirty of them before I reach the second floor. An elevator is kind of special; it’s my Space Mountain and as dumb as it sounds, I want to go on the ride.